The first historical mention of something resembling a Ouija board is found in China around 1200 B.C., a divination method known as fuji 扶乩 “planchette writing”. Other sources claim that according to a French historical account of the philosopher Pythagoras, in 540 B.C. his sect would conduct séances at “a mystic table, moving on wheels, moved towards signs, which the philosopher and his pupil, Philolaus, interpreted to the audience as being revelations supposedly from an unseen world.” However, other sources call both claims into dispute, claiming that fuji is spirit writing, not the use of a spirit board, and that there is no record of Pythagoras or his students actually having used this method of achieving oracles or divinations. In addition, the claim of ancient Greek use is called into doubt by questions of historical accuracy, as Philolaus was never the pupil of Pythagoras, and indeed was born roughly twenty-five years after Pythagoras’s death. The first undisputed use of the talking boards came with the Modern Spiritualist Movement in The United States in the mid-19th century. Methods of divination at that time used various ways to spell out messages, including swinging a pendulum over a plate that had letters around the edge or using an entire table to indicate letters drawn on the floor. Often used was a small wooden tablet supported on casters. This tablet, called a planchette, was affixed with a pencil that would write out messages in a fashion similar to automatic writing. These methods may predate modern Spiritualism.
During the late 1800s, planchettes were widely sold as a novelty. The businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard had the idea to patent a planchette sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed. The patentees filed on May 28, 1890 for patent protection and thus had invented the first Ouija board. Issue date on the patent was February 10, 1891. They received U.S. Patent 446,054 . Bond was an attorney and was an inventor of other objects in addition to this device. An employee of Kennard, William Fuld took over the talking board production and in 1901, he started production of his own boards under the name “Ouija”. The Fuld name would become synonymous with the Ouija board, as Fuld reinvented its history, claiming that he himself had invented it. Countless talking boards from Fuld’s competitors flooded the market and all these boards enjoyed a heyday from the 1920s through the 1960s. Fuld sued many companies over the “Ouija” name and concept right up until his death in 1927. In 1966, Fuld’s estate sold the entire business to Parker Brothers, who continues to hold all trademarks and patents. About 10 brands of talking boards are sold today under various names.
There are several theories about the origin of the term “Ouija”. According to one of these, the word is derived from the French “oui” (for “yes”) and the German “ja” (also for “yes”). An alternative story suggests that the name was revealed to inventor Charles Kennard during a Ouija séance and was claimed to be an Ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck.” It has also been suggested that the word was inspired by the name of the Moroccan city Oujda. Despite its common usage, “Ouija” is a registered trademark (but the term “Ouija Board” has been abandoned as a registered trademark).