This weekend, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Ralph H Baer. The inventor, who was 92 years of age, made history as the first person to create a home videogames console. His prototype, dubbed the Brown Box, would later be licensed and sold as the Magnavox Odyssey. Needless to say, we have lost one of the true pioneers of the videogames industry, a man who contributed an immeasurable amount to the hobby we love without seeking to self-aggrandise. We encourage you to spare a thought for Ralph Baer the next time you sit down at your console.
Born Rudolph Baer in Rodalben, Germany in 1922, Ralph Baer and his family fled to the USA to escape Nazi persecution in 1938. Following a stint in a factory job, Baer took to studying electronics and became a radio technician in 1940. He was drafted into military service during World War 2 in 1943, where he served in the London military intelligence base. Upon his return from army he resumed his electronics career, while tinkering with side projects at home.
The most important and influential of Baer’s projects was the Brown Box, the first ever videogames console, which was started in 1966 and working in prototype form by 1968. The console was eventually licensed and released as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. The Odyssey allowed for a variety of games to be played, although the machine’s limited capabilities meant that a variety of accessories were required, such as screen overlays and physical pieces to represent money. Magnavox later sued Atari over Pong, claiming that it infringed upon Odyssey-related patents. The case was settled in Magnavox’s favour for $1.5 million and access to a variety of patents. Baer would later testify in a number of similar cases throughout the Seventies and Eighties, all of which Magnavox won.
Later in the Seventies, Baer was part of the team that invented Simon, a massively popular electronic memory game that sold throughout the Eighties and into the Nineties. In his later life, Baer received a number of awards and accolades based on his work in electronics, including the National Medal of Technology presented to him in 2006 by President George W Bush.
Ralph Baer passed away at home in Manchester, New Hampshire on December 6th 2014, and is survived by three children and four grandchildren. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.
Earlier today, we uploaded an interview with Ralph Baer from issue 100 to celebrate his life and work – you can click here to read it.