Ralph Baer, one of the first pioneers in commercial video games, has passed away at the age of 92. Gamasutra is reporting his death by independent sources close to Baer. The inventor, who has over 150 patents to his name, was the inventor of the Brown Box which would become the Magnavox Odyssey, the first video game console.
Ralph Baer was born on March 8, 1922 in Rodalben, Germany to Jewish parents James L. Baer and Lucy K. Linard. As a Jew, Baer experienced the persecution of Jews in Germany in the years running up to World War II. He was expelled from his school in Germany and forced to go to an all-Jewish campus.
His family escaped Germany before the Kristallnacht, or “Crystal Night” in which coordinated attacks were carried out against Jews residing in Germany and Austria in November of 1938. The “Crystal” in the name comes from the glass that was strewn on the streets from the broken storefronts, synagogues and other establishments that had been vandalized along with the 30,000 that were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Arriving in America at the age of 16, Bear was self-taught in his love for technology and graduated from the National Radio Institute in 1940. in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Military for World War II and served as an intelligence officer. Baer graduated with a degree after the war that was unique at the time, a Bachelor of Science in Television Engineering from the American Television Institute of Technology in 1949.
Ralph Baer still would not be associated with gaming for another 20 years. He worked on designing medical equipment, surgical machines, power line signal carriers and eventually as a chief engineer for Transitron, Inc. in New York City. The company was one of the first high technology firms in the U.S. focusing on semiconductors and transistors.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Ralph Baer would start work on what would become his most important legacy. The TV Game Unit #1 was complete in 1966 and later iterations on the designs would be covered brown paper giving it the name “The Brown Box.”
Magnavox picked up the license for Ralph Baer’s invention and in 1972, the Magnavox Odyssey was launched and sold through 330,000 units in its three year life span with a total of 27 games sold for the console including Table Tennis which would be copied (and sued by Magnavox for doing so) by Atari as Pong.
The Magnavox Odyssey had no sound, could be powered by six C batteries and was the first digital console even through it used analog controllers and an analog video output. Owners were given plastic overlays for their TVs for the various game types and was also packed with dice, poker chips and score sheets. When compared against the new games seen today such as the ones theInquisitrfeatures every Sunday, it can be easily seen how even today, games are still being influenced by this little Brown Box.
The Odyssey was part of the First Generation of Video Game consoles which included the Odyssey, TV Tennis, Home Pong, the Binatone TV master, Coleco and Nintendo Color TV-Game.
Ralph Baer received the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush in 2008 only days after his wife Dena passed away. He is survived by three children James, Mark, and Nancy.
He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010, and many of his papers and works are on display at the Smithsonian.
[Image Credit |USPTO]