Gaming Gods
Gaming Gods: Ralph Baer

This series is now in full swing, and the world of Video Game development has been truly blessed with some amazing creative minds. But this week we’re doing something different. We’re going to turn our attention to Ralph Baer, commonly thought of as the father of the Video Game Console.

Ralph Baer

Ralph Baer Was born on the 8th of March, 1922, in Rodalben, Germany. When he was 11 he was expelled from a school in Germany because of his Jewish Ancestry, so he had to go to an all Jewish School. His father worked at a shoe factory in Pirmasens at the time. 2 months before Kristallnacht ( a series of coordinated attacks against Jewish Families) his family managed to escape from Germany with him. In America, he was self-taught and worked in a Factory for a wage of $12 per week. He graduated from the National Radio Institute as a radio service technician in 1940. In 1943 he was drafted to fight in World War II, assigned to military intelligence at the US army headquarters in London.

Baer graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Television Engineering (unique at the time) from the American Television Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1949.

In 1949, Baer went to work as a chief engineer for a small electro medical equipment firm, Wappler Inc, where he designed and built surgical cutting machines, epilators and low frequency pulse generating muscle-toning equipment. In 1951, Baer went to work as a senior engineer for Loral Electronics in the Bronx, New York, where he designed power line carrier signalling equipment for IBM. From 1952 to 1956 he worked at Transitron Inc in New York as a chief engineer and later as vice president. He started his own company before joining the Sanders Association in 1956, where he stayed until retiring in 1987.

Brown Box - Licensed to Sanders Associates

Baer is best known for leading the development of the Brown Box and the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game console and his pioneering patented work in establishing video games. He is now partnered with Bob Pelovitz of Acsiom, LLC, and they have been inventing and marketing toy and game ideas since 1983. In 2006, Baer donated all his hardware prototypes and documents to the Smithsonian. Baer is a Life Senior Member of Institute of Electronics Engineers.

Baer started Development of the Brown Box console Video game system and several other prototypes in 1966 for the defense-electronics company Sanders Associates in Nashua, New Hampshire (now part of BAE Systems). In 1971, it was licensed to Magnavox, and after being renamed the Magnavox Odyssey, the console was licensed to the public in 1972. For a time it was Sanders’ most profitable line, though many in the company looked down on game development.

Magnavox Odyssey - Licensed to Magnavox

Baer created the first Light Gun game for home television use, sold grouped with a game expansion pack for the Odyssey, and collectively known as the Shooting Gallery. The gun itself was the first peripheral for the video game console.

Another invention is Simon, an electronic pattern-matching game that was immensely popular in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Baer has many awards to his name. in 2005, at G4’s video game award show G-phoria, he received a Legend award for his work in the development of video games. On February 13th 2006, Baer was given a National medal of Technology by Former President George W. Bush, in honour of his ‘groundbreaking and pioneering creation, development and commercialization of interactive video games.’

In 2008, Baer received the IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award. He received the Pioneer award at GDC on Wednesday, February 20th 2006.

On February 27th 2008 Baer received the 2008 Developers Choice Awards ‘Pioneer’ Award. The award recognises individuals who have contributed to the advancement  of the videogame industry through technology, concept, or gameplay design.

On April 1st, 2010, Baer was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame at the ceremony at the United States Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

So, without a doubt, Ralph Baer deserves a place on our Gaming God thrown. Even more so than some of our previous contenders, purely because without some of his pioneering work, the Videogame industry probably wouldn’t exist. He is a legend to top all legends, and I hope you agree with me.

Happy Gaming


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