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The History of Uno

Uno was created by the Robbins family of Reading, Ohio, who loved to play cards. They particularly enjoyed Crazy Eights but found that the game’s tricky rule variations often led to family arguments. In response, Merle Robbins began to market a deck with custom instructions in the hopes of avoiding arguments. Different cards meant different things: for example, playing a king reversed the direction of play, and playing a queen meant the person had to skip their next turn. The game was a success among the Robbins’ friends, so Merle and his wife Marie sold their home for investment money and, along with some additional capital from their son Ray, financed 5,000 copies of a brand-new card deck along with their unique gameplay rules. They named the new game “Uno” after their rule that a player had to announce when only one card was left in their hand. Reportedly, they also selected the name as a way to subtly market the game during play, similar to “Bingo.” Merle Robbins originally sold Uno out of his barber shop, but he and his wife soon began to travel the country hawking their game. They drove around in a camper trailer emblazoned with signs that said “Uno — Best Game in America” and stopped at various campground clubhouses to promote their game. After selling the first 5,000 copies, they ordered another 10,000, which Merle and Ray placed in retail outlets. Soon after, an Uno fan named Bob Tezak purchased the game from the Robbins family and began marketing it even more aggressively. He and his small team at International Games Incorporated (IGI) sold the entire backstock of games that the Robbins family had purchased, then redesigned the game and its instructions to feature the familiar red cards and packaging we are familiar with today. Throughout the 1980s, Uno’s sales soared. In 1996, Mattel purchased the rights from Tezak and began to offer licensed versions using franchises like Disney and the NFL. They also began to make special versions, such as the Jenga-inspired Uno Stacko and the digital-only Street Fighter II Uno game for Xbox 360, as well as a sister game aptly called Dos. In 2017, Uno was officially branded as the #1 selling card game in the world and continues to delight children and adults to this day.

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