Game Over: Ralph Baer, inventor and ‘father of video games,’ has died

Print Friendly

“Had I listened to those people 40 years ago, who said ‘stop the nonsense,’ and ‘are you still fooling around with this stuff?’ If I hadn’t proceeded, we all might not be here today, certainly things might have been different.”Ralph Baer, on receiving The Pioneer Award at the 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards.


Ralph Baer 1922-2014
Ralph Baer 1922-2014

MANCHESTER, NH Ralph Baer, a technological pioneer, engineer and inventor, known as the “father of the video game,” has died. He was 92.

Baer was born in Rodalben, Germany. He was expelled from his school at the age of 11 because he was Jewish, and was sent to an all-Jewish school. Two months before the widespread attack of Jews in Germany and Austria by the Nazi’s in 1938, known as Kristallnacht, Baer’s family escaped Germany and made it to New York City.

He worked in factories for a while before attending the National Radio Institute where he learned to be a technician. He served in WWII and eventually moved to New Hampshire in 1956, for a job at Sanders Associates in Nashua.

He remained here, living in Manchester, NH, on Mayflower Drive, until  his death on Dec. 6.

Baer received the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush in 2006, and the 2008 Game Developers Choice Pioneer Award, among many other honors.

(For more on Baer’s career watch the PBS Digital Studios video above, part of their “Inventors” series.)

He developed the very first console video game system, originally known as the “Brown Box,” which was later licensed and sold as 1972’s Magnavox Odyssey, which laid the foundation for video games as we know them today. Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 11.07.15 PM

According to this Engadget post, Baer also a co-collaborator on the popular games, Pong and Simon, and had more than 150 patents in his lifetime.

Below is a brief chronology of how and when video games came to life, as posted on his own page, ralphbaer.com

Summer 1966
I came up with and worked on ideas on using a TV set for playing games.

1 Sept 1966
Wrote a 4-page paper describing my plans for simple video games.

6 Sept 1966
Drew a block-diagram for a two-player game:

7 May 1967
Played first two-player video game (I lost!)

14 June 1967
Demonstrated two-spot game including light gun for Playing multiple choice games.Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 8.22.19 PM

Oct-Nov 1967
Worked up Ping-Pong concepts with Bill Rusch and Bill Harrison (An engineer and a technician working for me at Sanders Associates).

9-13 Nov 1967
Demonstrated fully-functional ping-pong game

15 Jan 68
First patent application filed for video game; resulted in ‘480 patent.

1 Oct 1968
Demonstrated complete switch-programmable video game unit capable of playing ping-pong, volley-ball, football, gun games and using colored, transparent overlays as backgrounds

Jan 1969
Started to demonstrate revised unit adding light gun and joy-stick interface- the “Brown Box” – first fully-programmable, multi-player video game unit. Demonstrations were made to TV-set manufacturers including RCA, GE, Zenith, Sylvania, Magnavox, Warwick (Sears) – Yes, TV sets were manufactured in the US in those years! Most demos took place at Sanders Associates’ Nashua NH plant.

March 1970
License Agreement with RCA written, then canceled

17 July 1970
Demonstrated the “Brown Box” to Magnavox TV-set engineering, production and marketing management in their Ft.Wayne, IN plant. “It’s a GO!”

3 Mar 1971
Preliminary License Agreement signed with Magnavox in Ft. Wayne.

Mar-Sept 1971
Visits to Ft.Wayne to assist Magnavox engineers in turning out a production version of the “Brown Box”…turns out to be almost a dead ringer, part-for-part and works great! Magnavox signs exclusive License Agreement.

March 1972
Magnavox shows first “Odyssey” video game to large groups of Magnavox dealers in several US locations (Tavern-on-the-Green in NY, etc.) HOME VIDEO GAMES ARE LAUNCHED NATIONWIDE!

29 May 1972
Nolan Bushnell (later President of ATARI) visits “The Magnavox Profit Caravan” at the Airport Marina Hotel in Burlingame, CA. He signs guest book for Magnavox Odyssey demo and plays the Odyssey ping-pong game hands-on. Later, he hires Alan Alcorn to design and build a coin-op version of the ping-pong game: “PONG.” The PONG game is a great success! COIN-OP VIDEO GAMES ARE LAUNCHED!

Aug-Dec 1972
Magnavox sells nearly 100,000 Odyssey video games in the US. The first Pong game shows up (a take-off of Odyssey’s ping-pong game). The Home Video Game Industry is launched.”Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 7.16.31 AM

1973-1975
A total of 350,000 Odysseys have been produced and sold. The home video game business becomes a competitive industry Christmas 1975 with the appearance of the Atari-made Sears game.

1976-1977
I help Coleco get into the video game business in a big way with their Telstar game. Also work on Coleco’s ARCADE and COMBAT home games and on Magnavox’ Odyssey2 game.

For a detailed account of what really happened you can read Baer’s book, “Videogames: In the Beginning.” Go to www.rolentapress.com for ordering information.

About Carol Robidoux 5358 Articles
Journalist and editor of ManchesterInkLink.com, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.