Blog Inductee Stories

Who Invented Video Games?

Inductee Stories

The very first Video Games Day was celebrated on July 8, 1991 – but of course, video game history reaches back farther than that. In fact, it can be traced back to the 1960s, when National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Ralph Baer developed the first video game system. Keep reading to learn about the inventor who is called “the father of video games.”


From Radio to Television to Video Games

Baer was born in Germany in 1922. He came to the United States with his family in 1938, when he was a teenager. In 1940, he graduated from the National Radio Institute as a radio service technician.

Putting his education to good use, he operated three radio service stores in New York City from 1940 until 1943, when he was drafted for World War II. After serving in U.S. Army Military Intelligence through the war, Baer attended the American Television Institute of Technology in Chicago, where he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in television engineering in 1949.

Television was rapidly gaining popularity in the early 1950s, and while Baer focused on developing television technologies, he also started to think about new possibilities that could come along with TVs – like interactive games. Though he brought his ideas to his employers, at the time, they weren’t very interested in the potential technologies Baer had in mind.

Fortunately, Baer did not give up on his ideas. By the mid-1960s, he started thinking more seriously about games that could be played on TVs. He sketched some plans for a simple chase game, and then he developed a working prototype. In October 1966, he demonstrated his prototype to his employers at Sanders Associates (which is now part of BAE Systems). Impressed, they agreed to fund further development of Baer’s exciting work.


The Dawn of Gaming

Within a year, Baer and his team took the ideas behind his prototype and turned them into a two-player, multiple-choice game. “We never tried to make any one-player games,” Baer explained. “The intent was family entertainment. It was always assumed there would be multiple players.”

Over the next couple of years, Baer’s team developed many different game concepts, from a pingpong game to football and volleyball games, each of which could be played on a single switch-programmable video game unit.

In 1968, Baer filed for his first patent on gaming technology. He started calling his gaming device the “Brown Box,” and he demonstrated it to several television manufacturers. In 1971, Sanders licensed the technology to Magnavox, which is now known as Phillips North America.

The world’s first home video game console – the Magnavox Odyssey Home Video Game System – debuted in 1972. The multigame console included pingpong, handball, soccer, volleyball, target shooting, checkers and golf. The most popular game on the Odyssey console was pingpong. Looking back, Baer said, “We should have stopped after we developed pingpong, because that is all people really wanted to play. We stretched the project out for another year and added new games, but pingpong was always the game people demanded.”

Baer continued to be involved in video game innovation, including working with Coleco and other companies making new games. Beyond video games, he also worked on popular electronic toys, like Simon, a single-chip, microprocessor-controlled memory game introduced in 1978.

In 2004, Baer 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.” He continued inventing for the rest of his life and earned a total of more than 150 U.S. patents.


Meet More Awesome Inventors

Curious about more innovators in video game history? Check out this blog! And to discover even more National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees whose ideas have shaped our world, visit our website.

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