Ralph Baer, known as “The Father of Video Games” for his contributions to the video game industry, passed away on December 6 at the age of 92. The inventor and engineer helped develop the original “Brown Box” prototype game system that allowed people to play ping-pong electronically, and that work eventually turned into the Magnavox Odyssey, the very first home video game console.
Baer was born in Germany in 1922, and his family fled to America before the start of World War II. After developing an interest in electronics, he started working for defense electronics company Sanders Associates in the 1960s. He became intrigued with the idea of playing a game on a television screen, and after receiving approval from his supervisors, was given a small grant and the aid of two other engineers – Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch – and developed the “Brown Box.”
After the Brown Box was licensed to Magnavox, it was renamed the Odyssey and released to the public in 1972. It sold about 300,000 units, becoming Sanders Associates’ most profitable line. Baer also helped develop the first peripheral for a console, the light gun, which worked with the game Shooting Gallery. Later in the 1970s, Baer helped develop the electronic game Simon for Milton Bradley.
Baer’s original Brown Box is on display at the Smithsonian Institution, and Baer himself was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2006 in honor of his “groundbreaking and pioneering creation, development and commercialization of interactive video games.” He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010, and was awarded the IEEE Edison Medal earlier in 2014.