America was enamoured with talking boards, seances, and spirit communication in the 19th century, but it wasn’t until an entrepreneurial spirit stepped in that it really gained notoriety.
A man named Charles Kennard brought together investors, including Elijah Bond and Col. Washington Bowie, to form the Kennard Novelty Company. The reason? To manufacture and advertise the board for a very interested public.
The infamous talking board and its accompanying planchette was first patented in 1891. Of course, this was not the first talking board in existence. There are ancient ties to this mystical communicator:
“Although used in ancient China before the birth of Confucius and by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras in the fourth and fifth century BCE, this method of spirit communication did not become popular until an American, Elijah J. Bond, constructed a modern version in 1890.”
— Brian Righi, “Ghosts, Apparitions and Poltergeist”
Not only was the board modernized, it was also given a name. “Ouija” has become a propriety eponym in the case of talking boards – just like Band-Aids and Kleenex. What’s interesting is the controversy over how this name came to be chosen.
History claims Fuld as the inventor and father of the Ouija board. He was an employee and stockholder at the Kennard Novelty Company who would take over production of the board years after its inception. It’s also worth noting that the very first patent was actually assigned to Elijah Bond, proving that Fuld was not the inventor.
As for the source of the product’s name, it was commonly believed to be a combination of two foreign words; the French oui (yes) followed by the German ja (yes). However, this is now thought to be a well-spread falsehood.
Robert Murch, a Ouija historian, found an article in the Baltimore American from 1919 in which Charles Kennard explains the origin of the board’s name. It was Helen Peters, Bond’s sister-in-law, who literally pointed the way to the famous trademark.
Bond described her as a “strong medium”, and Murch’s research shows that she, Kennard and Bond asked the board what it wanted to be called. The name “Ouija” was the answer. When they asked what it meant, the board answered with, “Good luck.”
Founders’ letters claim that Helen Peters was also wearing a locket containing the portrait of a woman with the name “Ouija” written on it, which she showed to the men after the name had been spelled out. Kennard questioned whether or not Peters had been thinking of the locket while using the board, but she denied this.
So who is Ouija? Murch theorizes that the woman in the picture was actually Maria Louise Ramée, known as Ouida. She was a famous author of novels, essays, and children’s books as well as a women’s rights activist. It is entirely possible that Peters was a fan of Ouida, and her name on the locket was simply read incorrectly. Either way, this was considered to be another sign that Ouija was the proper alias for their product – and history has certainly proven that to be true.
An even stranger story is how the patent request came to be accepted. Murch is known to have interviewed the descendants of the founders of the Ouija board, uncovering the story of how the patent was attained. After multiple denials from patent inspectors, the chief patent officer said he would provide it on the condition that they prove the talking board worked. Helen Peters accompanied Bond at the patent office and used the planchette to spell out the patent officer’s name — which neither of them knew beforehand. The Bond for the patent was given immediately after this eerie demonstration.
Not many people are aware of Helen Peters’ role in naming the Ouija board and securing its patent, but it seems that without her it would not be the famous game and occult tool it is today. For this reason she is now known as the Mother of the Ouija Board, and many seek to commemorate her contribution to esoteric history.