AKA Ralph Henry Baer
Birthplace: Pirmasens, Germany
Location of death: Manchester, NH
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Engineer
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Inventor of the home video game console
Military service: US Army (1943-46)
Ralph Baer was born Jewish in Germany, just a few years before Adolf Hitler came to power, and with his parents he fled to America in his teens to escape the coming Holocaust. Fascinated by electronics, he took a correspondence course on the basics of radio technology, and worked in New York TV and radio repair shops for several years before attending a technical college in Chicago.
He said that the idea of video games first occurred to him in 1951, while he was working in the design and production of televisions for Loral Electronics. Nobody at Loral was not interested when he proposed the idea informally, but the notion percolated at the back of his mind, and while working at Sanders Associates (now part of BAE Systems) more than a decade later, he made a more formal proposal in a 12-page paper. He was allowed to pursue development of a prototype, leading to his 21 August 1969 filing of US Patent #3,659,285, for "Television Gaming Apparatus and Method".
With his crude working model, Sanders and Baer made pitches to virtually all the major American electronics firms, including General Electric, RCA, and Sears, before Magnavox agreed to license and manufacture the game. Beginning in 1972, Magnavox sold the Odyssey game console, with a retail price of $79 - $99, without optional extras.
The first commercially marketed video game, Odyssey offered no sound, no graphics to speak of, and players had to keep track of their own scores in their heads or on paper. Game maneuvers were limited to manipulating a few glowing dots on a TV screen, but the set came with thin, translucent plastic overlays that could be physically affixed to the screen, allowing players to enjoy games ranging from roulette to tennis to skiing. In a time when calculators weighed several pounds and cost hundreds of dollars, when computers were science fiction except in advanced university labs, the Odyssey was groundbreaking. About 300,000 units were sold, and the Odyssey console set the stage for the present-day video game industry.
While Baer's project was in development, Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari, visited Magnavox's labs and played electronic ping-pong on an Odyssey console. Atari released the home version of its Pong three years later, in 1975, and it was a more advanced and more successful game than Odyssey. For most 1970s era geeks, Pong was their first home video game system, but it was effectively based on Odyssey. When Magnavox sued for patent infringement, Bushnell testified that "I absolutely did see the Odyssey game and I didn't think it was very clever", but the lawsuit was settled with a $700,000 payment from Atari to Magnavox.
Baer also developed the SIMON electronic game with Howard J. Morrison, marketed by Milton Bradley, which became ubiquitous in America in the 1980s. His other inventions that reached the marketplace include Amazatron, Computer Perfection, Laser Command, Maniac, and the Chat-Mat talking doormat. He died in 2014.
Wife: Dena Whinston (m. 1952, two sons, one daughter)
Son: James Whinston Baer (b. 1955)
Son: Mark Whinston Baer (b. 1957)
Daughter: Nancy Doris Baer (b. 1960)
University: Radio Technician, National Radio Institute (correspondence course, 1940)
University: BS Television Engineering, American Television Institute of Technology (1949)
R.H. Baer Consultants Founder & President (1975-)
BAE Systems Engineering Fellow, Sanders Associates (1974-87)
BAE Systems Chief Engineer, Sanders Electro-Optics Div. (1971-73)
BAE Systems Mgr, Sanders Flexprint Div. (1970-71)
BAE Systems Div. Mgr. and Chief Engineer, Sanders Associates (1958-70)
BAE Systems Mgr. Equipment Design Div., Sanders Associates (1956-58)
Transitron Electronic Corporation Chief Engineer (1952-56)
Loral Corporation Senior Engineer (1950-52)
Wappler Electromedical Equipment Engineer (1949-50)
Emerson Electric Technician (1946-49)
National Medal of Technology and Innovation 2004
National Inventors Hall of Fame 2010
Naturalized US Citizen
Author of books:
Videogames: In the Beginning (2005)
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