Death of ‘the father of video games’ Ralph Baer, aged 92

8 Dec 2014

Ralph Baer receives his National Medal of Technology from US President George W Bush in 2006

The man credited as ‘the father of video games’ Ralph Baer has died at the age of 92. Baer invented the first home video-games console, the ‘Brown Box’, which was rebranded as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972.

Baer, a German immigrant to the US, laid the foundation for video games as we know them today.

As well as the first console Baer also developed the light gun, the world’s first video games peripheral, which came bundled with a shooting game.

Baer also designed the Simon pattern-matching toy, which is still available today and is the inspiration behind Google’s Chrome logo.

Born in Germany in 1922, Baer immigrated with his Jewish family from Germany on the eve of World War II.

He quit a factory job to do a correspondence course in radio electronics and served in US military intelligence in London during the war.

After beginning work with Sanders Electronics in the late 1950s Baer went on to secure more than 50 US patents and 100 worldwide patents.

He first began exploring the creation of video games while working as a defence contractor in the US in the 1960s.

Creator of new realms

The ‘Brown Box’ prototype which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution

Baer’s invention, the Brown Box, has pretty much set the template for what followed in terms of consoles like the Atari, the Nintendo and the Xbox and PlayStation consoles.

The first console to hit the market, the Odyssey, had no sound and was powered by batteries. It used translucent overlays to simulate colour graphics on TVs.

When it went on sale in 1972 it sold for US$100 and some 100,000 units were sold.

The device preceded the Atari 2600 console by five years and the rest they say is history.

Baer is also credited with designing some of the world’s earliest video games, including Ping-Pong, Handball and Soccer.

He was awarded the National Medal of Technology by US President George W Bush in 2006 for “his groundbreaking and pioneering creation, development and commercialization of interactive video games, which spawned related uses, applications, and mega-industries in both the entertainment and education realms.”

He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010.

Baer passed away at his home in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday. His wife Dena Whinston passed away in 2006. They had three children and four grandchildren.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years