The 6th December marked two years since we lost Ralph H. Baer who, due to his innovative ideas regarding the modern means of gaming, came to be affectionately known as “The Father Of Video Games”. Despite this unique title I doubt many of today’s young (or even older) gamers have ever heard of this engineering genius. Therefore I think it’s only fair that we have a look at the man in a little more detail.
Ralph Baer was born Rudolf Henrich Baer in Germany in 1922 to Jewish parents. Expelled from school aged 14 Ralph was forced to attend an all-Jewish school. In 1938 he emigrated with his family to New York City and would later become a United States citizen. Although he was self-taught in the US, Baer quit his first job in a factory to study electronics. He first graduated as a Radio Service Technician in 1940, something that would help him in Military Intelligence in the US Army during World War II. He also graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Television Engineering in 1949, which was unique at the time.
Baer worked as an engineer for numerous electronics companies in New York from the 1950’s. During this time he designed many cutting edge devices including epilators, muscle-toning equipment and surgical cutting machines. By 1966, while he was an employee at Sanders Associates, he came up with the idea of playing games on an ordinary TV set, which were still quite new at the time. Before this video games were only available on the very earliest electronic digital computers owned by universities and government organisations, mainly for the purpose of research and training. These were widely unavailable to the general public and would be dismantled after they had served their purpose.
Baer first came up with the idea in 1951, however the company he worked for at the time were not interested. Since then the reducing price of the television set allowed the possible expansion of the new video game concept on the mass public. After the proposal and funding had been agreed Baer then developed the “Brown Box”; the original prototype is currently displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Brown Box on display in the Smithsonian Institution Washington DC
Baer is also credited with the pattern matching games “Simon” in 1978 and “Super Simon” in 1979, and also created the first light gun for home television with the Magnavox Odyssey.
Simon (Electronic Memory Game)
Magnavox Odyssey home console
After his retirement in 1987 Baer won numerous awards for his works including the G-Phoria “Legend Award” (2005), the “IEEE Edison Medal” (2014) and the posthumously given “Pioneer Award” by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (2015). By the time of his death on 6th December 2014 Baer had over 150 patents, including submarine tracking systems and electronic greetings cards, as well as all of his video game patients. So next time you plug in your home video game console to your television set for your next intense 12 hour gaming session, don’t forget to raise your heavily sweetened black coffee to the genius Ralph H. Baer; The Father of Video Games.