Educational Game - Fraction Play

By the end of the 19th century, many Americans had separate places for work and private life. Most children attended school for several years before going to work in an office or factory. The emphasis on the home as a domestic sphere, the expansion of childhood, and such other factors as lower costs for manufactured goods encouraged the development of children’s games. Some amusements, such as playing cards, had long been condemned in some religious traditions. To reach children in the home, some makers introduced special instructive card games. In 1896, executives of the United States Playing Card Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, formed a separate company, The Fireside Game Company, to produce games like Fraction Play.
Fraction Play, which teaches the addition and subtraction of fractions, consists of 52 paper cards, each marked with an irreducible fraction. The backs of the cards are identical and read “Knowledge is Power.” The cards are stored in a cardboard box, with instructions pasted to the inside of the lid. The fractions are 1/2, thirds, fourths, sixths, eighths, tenths, twelfths, and twentieths.
According to the instructions, players were dealt cards, and other cards were placed face up on the table. A player sought to add a fraction in his hand to one or more on the table to obtain 1 or 2, or to subtract a fraction in the hand from the total of one or more cards on the table to reach zero. Points were awarded for using the most cards, using twentieths, using the cards 7/8, 2/3, 11/12, and 19/20, and taking all the cards from the table in one play.
Fraction Play was copyrighted by The Fireside Game Company in 1896 and sold for 25 cents. The company also sold at least 15 other games on topics ranging from ordinary arithmetic to geography to botany to politics. These are listed on a 53rd card in the deck. By 1901 The Fireside Game Company had changed its name to The Cincinnati Game Company. That company introduced the games “Addition and Subtraction,” “Multiplication and Division,” “Fractions,” and “Constructive Geometry” in a series of “educational games” intended for classroom use. The mathematical games in the series were designed by Cincinnati educators and edited by David Eugene Smith of Columbia University. By about 1908, the need for a dummy company selling educational cards apparently had passed. The U.S. Playing Card Company sold educational games (though not Fractions) under its own name.
Bill Alexander, “Featured Company: Fireside and Cincinnati Game Companies,” Game Times, Fall/Winter 1987, pp.132–133.
Will C. James, “Educational Games,” Inland Educator and Indiana School Journal, vol. 3 (1902), pp. 267–269.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Fireside Game Company
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 2 cm x 7 cm x 9.5 cm; 25/32 in x 2 3/4 in x 3 3/4 in
place made
United States: Ohio, Cincinnati
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Arithmetic Teaching
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Arithmetic Teaching
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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