May 18th, 2007
Day 5 of WFME’s week long Week ‘o Searches ends today with an awfully personal search string that has brought people to my site.
The search “Who Invented The Game Thumb War” hit close to home because what few people know is that my late Grandfather Bernard was the inventor of Thumb War. I’ve never tried to make money off this fact, I’ve never even looked into charging people a dollar each time they play the game that my family invented, but with this many searches bringing people here looking for the name of the person who actually invented it — I felt it was about time.
So why don’t I give you some of the background?
Bernard Davidson was my father’s dad. A simple man who would simply be known later in life for his office supply (bulk) business, he was never fully recognized for his contributions to the finger game industry. Sure, people who invented rock, paper, scissors have always gotten more press than the thumb war creators — and what’s even more disturbing about that is that the RPS game has huge flaws that I don’t even want to begin talking about.
But Thumb Wars? It’s a clean, simple, ingenious game.
The story of how Thumb Wars came to be was shared with me as a 6 year old while visiting my Grandpa Bernard at his home in upstate New York. Having been alive during World War II, and reaching the point where the war seemed to be taking more lives than he felt was warranted — he decided to take a stand against the constant violence and killing. That stand? Inventing a game that included the word “war” but made a statement by said game not including violence whatsoever. His goal? In his words? “To create a game that would lampoon war, and get people shaking hands.”
Thumbs touching thumbs was the ultimate answer.
At first, per my Grandfather, the game wasn’t perfect. Initially, players were allowed to use their other hand to help their thumb out in the game. This often resulted in frustrated players and uneven matches. The next iteration of Thumb Wars provided players with gloves that restricted air flow and flexibility. One night, however, while attempting to play a game of Thumb Wars with himself — he realized that in a culture that had been through the Depression (he had, as well, and it had changed him) and was having financial difficulties across the board — the fun he was inventing needed to harken back to the kind of fun children had just playing in the streets.
It had to be free.
And thus, the simple (bring your thumb and I’ll bring mine) game of Thumb Wars was born. My Grandfather Bernard introduced it to some of his friends, who introduced it to their relatives. This all happened in the mid 40′s, and by 1949 (four years after WW II was over) it was sweeping the nation. But one huge mistake my Grandfather had made was that he did not patent the idea, copyright the concept or even demand that others attribute the idea to his name. He simply approached the idea with glee since people were having fun, enjoying others’ company, and doing the one thing as far away from War as possible.
He would tell this story in his later years, with a defeated look in his eyes.
Sure, he had made some money with his office supply business — but that wasn’t where his passion had been focused. It had been focused on creating a wrestling finger game that required no outfit, monetary outlay or specific class ranking. It didn’t require admission to any sort of building, didn’t necessitate a uniform — and was the most peaceful war that was ever created. He was proud of himself, talked of his invention often, and was never recognized whatsoever.
Like I said before — I’m not one to post real life truths on this blog. It’s about humor and entertainment. But the more I see people search “Who Invented Thumb Wars” the more my Grandfather’s last words echo through my head. I saw him two days before he died back in the early 90′s, and besides telling me how much he loved me, he wanted me to know one other thing. He smiled and said:
“Everybody has thumbs.”
It was the most telling thing my Grandpa Bernard ever said. In that one statement, forty minutes before he left this Earth, he wanted me to know that he finally felt satisfied — that even after he was gone, everyone on this planet would still have the opportunity to benefit and enjoy the one thing he left behind.
Rest in peace, Grandpa Bernard. I can only imagine who you’re beating in your own game, up so high.