Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014) / by Benjamin Sawyer

Ralph Henry Baer was considered the “Father of Home Video Games” with his invention of the “Brown Box” or Magnovox Odyssey which was the first commercial video game console. He died at the age of 92 on December 6, 2014.

He was born Rudolf Heinrich Baer on March 8, 1922 in Germany. He moved to America before WWII in 1938 and changed his name to Ralph Henry Baer. He worked in a factory sewing manicure sets. In 1940 he graduated from The National Radio Institute in Washington D.C. as a radio technician. In 1943 he was drafted as a Private and served under Eisenhower in Military Intelligence. After the war, he pursued his interest in the electronic industry. In 1960 he revolutionized gaming with his idea to play games on a television.

Baer was destined to invent things. At age 16 he invented a wooden jig to help the sewing machines stitch 5 or 6 manicure pouches at once. According to his website, Baer holds more than 150 U.S. and foreign patents.

In 1966 Baer became a manager of an electronics design division at a defense industry company called Sanders. It is here that he was given $2,500 (approximately $17,000 today) to split with two other engineers to develop the game console. Together they created the “Brown Box,” or as it would be come to be known due to its wood veneer. In 1971, Magnovox bought the system and named it the Magnovox Odyssey. It was released in 1972.

The success of the Odyssey led to other inspiring minds that contributed to the short video game history. Atari created the first arcade game Pong based off of Baer’s table tennis idea. This led to the first video game lawsuit, which was settled out of court and Atari paid Magnovox for licensing fees for years after.

Besides the “Brown Box,” Baer was a pioneer in the gaming world. He created numerous toys and memory games, including the more famous memory game Simon. Have you played Resident Evil? He invented the first light gun (accessory for game console), which is considered the first gaming peripheral, allowing you to kill all those zombies with ease.

Among his award of being the “Father of Video Games,” Baer has other impressive awards: he was awarded G-Phoria Legend Award (2005), the IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award (2008), the Game Developers Conference Developers Choice “Pioneer” award (2008), the IEEE Edison Medal (2014), the National Medal of Technology given by President George W. Bush (2006) and his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2010).

In an interview in 2010, he said he was the first to lose a video game between two people. So go out there and play a video game in honor of Baer, and don’t be afraid to lose.

You can see the “Brown Box” in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.