The Interesting History of the UNO Card Game

Hundreds of card games are played by many people around the world, but only a few are as popular as UNO. If you don’t know, UNO is a simple card game wherein players compete to see who will be the first one to shout “UNO!” and run out of cards in his or her hand.

In order to discard a card from a player’s hand in UNO, the player must match the number or the color that another player discarded on the pile at the center of the table or floor. However, there are also special cards in the game that allow players to reverse the order of turns, skip a player’s turn, or let other players draw two or more cards.

While UNO is a very popular card game, not a lot of people actually know its origins. If you are curious about where this card game came from, here is the interesting history of UNO.

The Origins of UNO

pile of UNO cards

The game of UNO was developed by an American barber named Merle Robbins in 1971. Merle Robbins was a resident of Reading, Ohio, who came up with the gameplay mechanics of UNO after arguing with his son Ray about the rules of another card game called Crazy Eights. [1]

Crazy Eights has similar rules to UNO, as each player’s objective in the game is to discard all of the cards in their hand before the others do. In addition, the card that can be discarded on the pile should match either the number or the color of the card at the top of the pile, and this is very much like how UNO is played.

In order to avoid further arguments with his son, Merle Robbins created his own version of Crazy Eights that has special cards that make the game even more exciting to play with his family. These special cards were regular playing cards that he marked with instructions. [2] These cards were:

  • Aces – wild card (can be any color)
  • Queens – make the player next to you skip his or her turn
  • Kings – the order of turns for the players are reversed

UNO’s Rise in Popularity

a person holding UNO cards

Robbins and his family immediately saw the potential for the new card game to sell well if Robbins chose to market and sell it in stores. So, in order to have enough capital to start producing and selling the card game, Robbins and his family mortgaged their home and raised $8,000. With the money that they raised, Robbins was able to produce the first 5,000 UNO decks that he sold in his barber shop. His son Ray later sold some of the decks to the students at the school where he was teaching.

Merle Robbins got the name of the game from the Italian and Spanish word “uno,” which means “one.” The name would be shouted during the game whenever a player only has one card left in his or her hand. If another person shouts “UNO!” first before the actual player that has only one card, the player must draw two cards as a penalty.

In just one year, Robbins was able to attract the attention of a game company called International Games, which acquired the rights to produce and sell UNO for $50,000 and royalties of 10 cents per copy for Robbins. International Games was founded by Robert Tezak, an owner of a funeral parlor in Joliet, Illinois. [3] Tezak would establish the office of International Games at a space behind his funeral parlor.

In 1992, Mattel acquired International Games, which then enabled the company to gain rights to Uno. Mattel is a multinational toy company that was founded in 1945 by Harold Matson and the couple Ruth and Elliot Handler.

Mattel was founded at the Handler’s garage in Los Angeles. The name of the company is a portmanteau or a combination of Matson’s surname and Elliot Handler’s first name. The company would first sell picture frames, and they would later go on to produce dollhouses that were made from the scraps of the picture frames they made and sold.

By acquiring numerous companies and brands, Mattel became the world’s second-largest toy maker behind The Lego Group. Besides UNO, Mattel also markets and sells other popular brands like Hot Wheels and Barbie.

The Impact of Uno on Pop Culture

UNO wild card

UNO is arguably one of the card games that had a significant impact on pop culture alongside Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG). But out of all of the card games that we mentioned previously, UNO is arguably much more popular for the masses as it has very accessible gameplay mechanics that kids, adults, and the elderly can enjoy.

Besides appearing in numerous TV shows and movies, UNO has also partnered and collaborated with various popular brands and names in the entertainment industry. These collaborations came in the form of special editions of the UNO card game, where characters, locations, and scenes from TV shows, movies, video games, and other forms of entertainment are shown on the UNO cards.

Here are some of the best special editions of UNO that feature popular TV shows, movies, and video games:


UNO is considered one of the best card games available today, and its popularity is primarily attributed to how easy it is to play with friends, acquaintances, and family members. If you haven’t played a game of UNO yet, you can check out the links we have provided above so that you can buy your own deck and play it with your loved ones.


[1] Gamesver Team. (2021, July 8). History of UNO (Card Game) | M. Robbins, Crazy Eights. Gamesver. Retrieved November 13, 2023, from

[2] Uno Rules. (n.d.). Uno History – HOW IT ALL BEGAN. Uno Rules. Retrieved November 13, 2023, from

[3] Lesar, J. (1992, March 15). The barber who invented UNO knew the game had… UPI Archives. Retried November 13, 2023, from