Monday, October 19, 2015

The Amusing Instructor

by Erin Doane, curator

Board games have been around since the earliest days of human civilization.  By the late 19th century, families in the United States were seeing an increase in their leisure time and sought new things to do. Companies responded by producing more board games in greater varieties. The Amusing Instructor is a board game invented in 1887 by Joseph H. Beach of Elmira. This educational game includes a game board with a central spinner and two chalk boards and a booklet containing instructions for playing 35 different games that can be adapted to all grades of intelligence.

Joseph H. Beach is first listed in the Elmira City directories in 1878 as a yard keeper at the Elmira Reformatory. By 1880 he was the principal keeper there. It is not certain whether he was still working at the Reformatory when he invented The Amusing Instructor in 1887. By 1889, though, he had gone into real estate as a career. He retired around 1922 and either moved or passed away around 1935. He is no longer listed in the directories at that point.

On the first page of The Amusing Instructor’s instruction booklet, Beach explains why he chose to create this educational game. In his own words he had, “at various times, had occasion to search through store after store for the purpose of selecting suitable games to present to his young friends, and it has occasionally transpired that after having made careful selections, after patient investigation, he has still felt that he was not quite satisfied with his purchase, for the reason that he had been looking for something that he could not find. He desired to procure games that possessed not only the merit to amuse, but also desired, if possible, to procure games that possessed the additional advantage of imparting useful knowledge; and he ofttimes found himself wondering why persons devising new games had not more frequently had in view, in their construction, the idea of the development of the mind.”

The game board Beach created was designed so that people could play games of letters, words and sentences, games of numbers, and geographical games all on the same board. Children could learn the alphabet, orthography, figures, the locations and sizes of lakes, and many other things playing this game. On the game’s cover there is the claim that “The Amusing Instructor is the most desirable game board in existence.” Several of the 14 reasons for this claim are that the games played afford pleasure by harmless amusement; that useful knowledge is rapidly acquired by persons playing the games; that in many of these games there are elements of the greatest uncertainty; and that the board itself is not cheaply made.

The instruction booklet also includes “A Paradise for Puzzlers” containing puzzles, conundrums, tricks, fortune tellers, etc. If one wanted the correct answers to all the puzzles and explanations of how to do the trick, one only had to send five 2-cent postage stamps to him in the mail. Unfortunately for us, neither of our two copies of The Amusing Instructor came with the answer key!


  1. it really is amazing how we used to play games back in the day i remember my Dad and Mom saying they played with whatever was around the house and look at the massive amount of games that are out in our time .. thanks for sharing a really fun article

  2. Inspires us to start hosting "Bored Games" nights at Schoharie Crossing. lol