July 8th is Video Game Day, a day where gamers celebrate by sharing their favorite games, talking about their gaming memories, and engage in the age-old argument on which is better console or PC. While we (gamers) celebrate both the nostalgia and future of gaming, there’s one person we really should celebrate, Ralph H. Baer (1922-2014).
Without Baer, we probably would never have had gaming systems. So who is he? Baer was born in Germany in 1922. Life was hard for Baer and his family due to the social and political firestorm that was taking over Germany at the time, and that they were Jewish.
In 1938 at the age of 16, Baer’s family moved to New York, two months later the infamous Kristallnacht took place. After becoming a citizen, Baer worked in a factory (for $12 a week) and was self-taught. While at a bus stop, he saw an advertisement for degrees in electronics in which he quit his job and attended the National Radio Institute.
In 1940 he graduated as a radio service technician and three years later he was drafted into the Army during the Second World War. During the war, Baer was in Military Intelligence and was stationed in London. After the war, he attended the American Television Institute of Technology and graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree in the new field of Television Engineering.
While working for Sanders Associates, Baer came up with the concept that eventually evolved into what is now known as the “Brown Box”. In 1967 the brown box was the first gaming console which Baer later evolved into the Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercial gaming system released in 1972.
Baer’s Odyssey would lead to other systems being developed and improved upon. With the new video game market becoming competitive, it was flooded with gaming systems that eventually caused what’s now known as the Video Game Crash of ’83. After the crash a new gaming system rose from the ashes, Nintendo’s NES, the rest is history.
All that happened because of Baer’s invention, well, one of many inventions of his that’s changed the world. Baer also developed a famous handheld electronic game that’s still used to frustrate partygoers to this day, Simon.
So on July 8th, instead of arguing about what console is better or if PC is really the only way of gaming, break out the old Simon, and remember the man who immigrated to the US to escape tyranny and oppression and gave the world something we can all enjoy. On Video Game Day, give thanks to Ralph H. Baer, the father of video games.