I searched boardgamegeek.com for all games with an initial publication date no later than 1936, the year after Charles Darrow's patent and sale to Parker Brothers and the year that Monopoly became the best-selling game in America at 20,000 copies per week. The result was a list of upwards of 1000 board and card games that might have been known to Americans at that time. There's no way to tell (that I know of) which were the most popular in 1936, but a look at the number of people who rated each game on boardgamegeek gives me some idea of which are the most enduring today. Here are the top ten:
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- Chess - the quintessential boardgame, the ultimate intellectual challenge, and a venue to demonstrate national superiority during the Cold War
- Monopoly - perhaps the top-selling boardgame of all time
- Poker - a standard deck of cards, a set of betting chips, and bluffing
- Pit - a 1904 Parker Brothers card game based on a 1903 Gavitt game of stock trading and market cornering
- Crokinole - a kind of table-top circular shuffleboard dexterity game formalized by an Ontario sign painter in 1876 and popular among Canadian Mennonites
- Cribbage - a standard deck of cards, a scoring peg track, and a long tradition on American submarines
- Checkers - the oldest game on this list, dating back almost 900 years
- Othello - originally known as Reversi, invented in England in 1883
- Mahjong - a 19th-century Chinese tile game introduced to America in the 1920s
- Dominoes - a 500-year-old tile game
Parker Brothers published (according to boardgamegeek) a total of 22 new games in the years 1933 to 1936, plus a "Monopoly Stock Exchange Add-on," the earliest game expansion I know of. One of those games, Bulls and Bears, is another financial-themed game designed by Charles Darrow. As far as I can tell, it went nowhere. I can only speculate (no pun intended) from pictures of the components that it struck the buying public as "another game trying to be Monopoly," and they might well have been right.
Darrow is believed to have based the Monopoly design that he sold to Parker Brothers in 1935 on unpublished games of property trading he'd seen played by neighbors and friends and on The Fascinating Game of Finance, which he'd been taught by Charles Todd and which apparently derived ultimately from Elizabeth Magie's Landlord's Game. So whereas Monopoly may have been the indirect product of decades of playtesting and informal refinement, Bulls and Bears may have amounted to a hastily-assembled knock-off attempt to cash in on the success of Monopoly. But as I say, I can only speculate.