Video Games Father Was Refugee

Video Games' Father Was a Refugee

Ralph Baer father of video gamesWhen Ralph Baer [bear] was just a boy he was kicked out of school, not for being a disciplinary problem, not for being too slow to keep up, but because he was a Jew. He was forced to start working at menial and odd jobs when he was 14. His boss at a shoe factory told him he would never amount to anything, but then he invented a machine that speeded up the shoe manufacturing.

Baer also taught himself English during this time, which is how he, at age 16, and his family managed to be accepted as immigrants to the United States. That was in 1938.

Because Baer had no school completion records from Germany, he started reading at the NYC Public Library to educate himself. He also took correspondence courses in radio and TV electronics. Five years later he was drafted into the U.S. Army where his knowledge of German got him placed in Intelligence.

After the war, he attended college on the GI Bill. He earned "what he always believed was the very first B.S. degree anywhere in television engineering." After WWII, electronics came into its heyday; and Baer was in the right place at the right time. His company had him developing television sets. But he wanted to do something much more interesting with a TV screen than passively watch it. When he mentioned this to the chief engineer, the latter told him "Forget it. You're behind schedule anyway, so stop screwing around with this stuff. Build the set."

Later on, while waiting at a bus stop one day, it occurred to him that "you could get into the antenna terminals of a TV set via Channel 3 or Channel 4." And starting from that thought, interactive TV became a possibility.

Little by little, and with sporadic help from others, and working both in his home basement and in a small, side lab at his company, he achieved rudimentary game possibility. The next step was to consider what games to play. They started out playing ping pong onscreen.

Baer was also good at visualizing the commercial prospects of his work. In the 1970s, Sanders Associates, his employer, started making money with Baer's "brown box." Sanders licensed it to Magnavox Corp., who took the ideas and developed "the hugely popular Odyssey video game console."

There is a 3:25 minute video plus several photos on the below webpage showing him, his home lab, and the re-creation of his early lab at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in D.C. He also explains why, at over age 90, he has not retired from creating electronic things.

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Above adapted from article by Arthur Molella, published on 12/14/2015 at: Article on Huffington Post

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