If you’ve ever played a console video game at home, thank this guy.
Check out this story of Ralph Baer, a pioneer of electronic gaming, from “PBS Inventors.”
Ralph Baer’s family immigrated to the United States in 1938, when it was clear the direction that Germany, his country of birth, was heading.
They were a Jewish family in a country that was about to murder and imprison all the Jewish people who could be found.
Baer’s family escaped just two months before Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), the beginning of the Holocaust.
They chose New York City as a place to flourish.
Baer worked in a factory until he saw an ad for classes in the electronics field, which was a new frontier at the time.
It lit him up pun intended and he worked various jobs in that field, ending up at a defense contractor where he developed electronic systems for military applications.
Out of that fertile breeding ground of ideas sprang the first modern home video game console system.
Called a brown box” because of the brown duct tape he and his crew wrapped it in, it was the prototype for the Magnavox Odyssey game system, first released in 1972.
He actually had the idea for a home game system in 1951, but the company he worked for at the time didn’t bite at all. (Kinda like the record company that told the early Beatles: Thanks for the demo. We’ll call you. No, really we will.”)
That very same year, the “Pong” standalone arcade gaming system think bars and bowling alleys hit the market, made by another company. (Pop quiz: Who made “Pong” and turned it into a household name? Hint: rhymes with Qatari.)
In effect, “Pong” was conquering the arcade while Magnavox was winning the home market. Atari didn’t even try to capture the home market for three more years.
Baer continued to invent throughout his life.
over 150 patents at the time of his death in 2014, including for electronic greeting cards and tracking systems for submarines.
Beyond his visionary contributions to video games, he also helped develop several other well-known games in other formats, such as Simon, Super Simon, and Maniac. Remember the Simon game?
In 2004, he was awarded the
National Medal of Technology “for his groundbreaking and pioneering creation, development and commercialization of interactive video games, which spawned related uses, applications, and mega-industries in both the entertainment and education realms.”
People asked him why he wanted to keep inventing, keep creating, at age 90. His response was simple.
He explained that his wife and all of his friends had passed on. “What am I going to do?”