Ralph Baer Was an Inventor His Entire Life


Ralph Baer was an inventor his entire life. He was responsible for patenting the first ever video gaming console, and passed away at the age of 92 Saturday. Baer is credited with turning television sets into the gaming devices of the future.

Baer was born in 1922 and his family emigrated from Germany to New York to escape Hitler. He started working at a factory when he was 16, and quit two years later after completing a correspondence course for fixing radios. In 1943 he was drafted into the army, where he became an intelligence officer.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in radio engineering and eventually went on to work for Loral Electronics where he was assigned to work on a state of the art television. When he suggested adding a video game aspect, his boss turned him down. He later joined Sanders, where his idea became a reality.

In 1966, Baer had an idea that would allow people to play games on their television sets. At the time he was working as an engineer for the military. His boss gave him $2500 for research and development and assigned two others to work with Baer.

1971 was the year Baer and his company, Sanders Associates, filed for a patent on the futuristic gaming console. The patent was granted in 1973. Many television companies liked the idea of a video game console, but not enough to license it.

The Odyssey was considered to be the first “home computing device,” although it contained no actual software. Inside, it had 40 transistors and 40 diodes that controlled everything. It also came with a master unit that controlled everything, two controllers, and electronic program cards for different games. The unit also was supplemented with dice, a deck of playing cards, and poker chips. Score sheets were also included to allow players to keep score like traditional board games.

Magnavox licensed the new gaming console, the Odyssey from Sanders Associates, and sold 130,000 units the first year it was available. After it spent a few months on the market, Atari released Pong, the first arcade video game. Atari was sued by Sanders and Magnavox over patent infringement and Atari settled out of court, paying $700,000.

Baer remained critical of Magnavox for their sales strategies, first for advertising that the Odyssey would only work with Magnavox televisions, and then again for selling the console for $100. He thought the device should be more affordable and suggested a price point of $19.95.

Spending his entire life as an inventor, Baer’s console was only the beginning of the video gaming technology that is known today. Video game enthusiasts have kept the technology changing with the ever-growing for better graphics and more elaborate games.

He is also known for inventing the first video game light gun. He worked with Milton Bradley and was a co-developer of Simon, the popular memory game.

Ralph Baer emigrated to New York and became an inventor. Baer remained an inventor his entire life. With the creation of the first home gaming console, along with a few other electronics, he paved the way for modern gaming systems.

By Kerri Cushna


New York Times

Photo by Ted Eytan – Flickr License

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