Dec 092014
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ralph-baer-02_wide-5c1a8361ab88d5406b9b2e3fd3ea5b895240ff16-s800-c85Yesterday brought bad news as Ralph Baer, widely regarded as the ‘Father of Video Games’ passed away.  He was 92 years old, and unlike other inventors, was able to see the unfolding of what began as a simple experiment nearly 50 years ago.

Baer, who manage to escape Nazi Germany with his family in 1938, wound up in Brooklyn, New York.  At age 16, he took a correspondence course on how to fix televisions and radios, which would prove most helpful down the road.   Later in 1943, he helped write plans for the D-Day invasion, and served under General Dwight Eisenhower.

After the way, Baer went to college on the GI bill and wound up getting one of the first degrees in television engineering.  He started work in 1951 for Loral, building televisions.  It was at that time that he came up with the idea of putting games on television sets – an idea that met with little support.  It would be another 15 years when Baer again brought the idea up to his new employer, who game him $2,500 to try to make it work.

In 1969, Baer, who would go on to receive 150 patents, recalled that in an early meeting with a patent examiner and his attorney to patent his new video game console, “within 15 minutes,  every examiner on the floor of that building was in that office wanting to play the game.”  This brown box system would eventually be licensed by Magnavox in 1971, and in 1972 would become the Odyssey ITL 200, the first commercially available video game system.SONY DSC

I recalled my father bringing home this system when I was just five years old in 1973.  I think he paid under $100 for it, and it came with a number of available games on very thin printer board cards, which slid into the top.

Such games includes football, invasion, baseball and haunted house. The latter requiring a plastic sheet that was taped and hung on the television screen.  I played that haunted house game for hours on end.

Baer would go on to to invent the electronic memory game Simon through Milton Bradley.  As for the Odyssey, it sold nearly 350,000 units in 3 years, but made the bulk of its money in defending the related patents against the likes of Atari, Coleco, Mattel and Activision.  Magnavox won every single infringement case over a 20-year period, which leading to them collecting more than $100 million.

In time Baer would go onto to receive the National Medal of Technology from President George Bush in 2006, as well as an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010.  The man, quite simply, started an entire industry from an idea that he would not let go of.

Take a read on the internet, and you will find comments on popular tech and gaming websites carrying his story.  The great thing is that gamers from thirty years ago and today, all people have nothing but nice things to say about Ralph Baer.  In fact, one commenter noted, “Congratulations Ralph – you’ve made it to the next level.”

  2 Responses to “R.I.P. – The Father of Video Games Passes”

  1. Steve,

    Interesting article.

    I hope you and the family are all well and enjoying California.


  2. The incredible part of his legacy is that Magnavox made the bulk of their profits from patent litigation. Another amazing takeaway from this is the creativity that arose from technical limitations at the time. The games he created are timeless in a way and I attribute this to the game mechanics not being dependent on fancy graphics or gimmicks. The world will miss Ralph!

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