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March 8: The Father of Video Games

March 8, 2016

pvpkklgqy3h2u8h19v4rRalph H. Baer, an American refugee from Nazi Germany who became an electronics inventor who conceived of playing games on television screens as early as 1951 and helped to pioneer their creation in the 1960s, was born in southwest Germany on this date in 1922. Baer served in U.S. military intelligence during World War II, then acquired an undergraduate degree in Television Engineering from Chicago’s American Television Institute of Technology, in 1949. He became a military engineer, designing electronic systems, and began to explore his idea for a home video console. The eventual product was the Magnavox Odyssey, released for sale in 1972. It sold 340,000 units before competitors like Atari came upon the scene (Baer would successfully sue Atari for copyright infringement). In 2006, Baer donated his prototypes to the Smithsonian Institution, and by the time of his death in 2014, he held more than 150 patents for inventions ranging from electronic greeting cards to submarine tracking systems. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology; in 2010, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

“We came up with playing games on a television set. We came up with pointing a light gun and shooting at the screen. It was all original, all within the first twelve months.... we only worked on stuff for a month or so, and then a technician has to go off on some other military program [that was] more important, right? And nobody’s working on stuff for several months, and then we go back to it [and] work on it part time. When you string all the months together that we worked on the stuff, it was probably no more than a year and a half. Maybe two years.” —Ralph Baer