First Popular Home Video Game

First Popular Home Video Game

The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games, First Popular Home Video Game

By the 1960s, millions of Americans had invested in televisions for their homes, and it soon became clear that this technology could be used for more that passively watching television shows. In 1966, while working for Sanders Associates Inc., engineer Ralph Baer began to investigate how to play games on a television. Between 1967 and 1969, he and colleagues Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch created several video game test units. This result was the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Sanders licensed the system to Magnavox. In 1972, Magnavox released the design as the Magnavox Odyssey, paving the way for all video game systems that followed.

First Popular Home Video Game

Ralph Baer donated his video game test units, production models, notes, and schematics to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2006. His papers are kept in the Museum's Archives Center. In 2014, the Museum collected his workshop to become the landmark object for its Innovation Wing. First Popular Home Video Game

"The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games - Introduction" showing 11 items. First Popular Home Video Game


TV Game Unit #1, 1967
 

Description
    From this assemblage of metal, wires and glass tubes, the future of video games would be built. First Popular Home Video Game
    In 1966, while working for Sanders Associates Inc., engineer Ralph Baer began to look into new ways to use television, focusing specifically on interactive games. In 1967, he created the first of several video game test units. Called TVG#1 or TV Game Unit #1, this device, when used with an alignment generator, produced a dot on the television screen that could be manually controlled by the user. Now that he was able to interact with the television, Baer could design increasingly sophisticated interfaces and programs.
    TV Game Unit #1 was designed by Baer and built with the assistance of Bob Tremblay, a technician who worked with Baer at Saunders. Though transistors were available, Baer, who had received his bachelor’s in television engineering, choose to use the familiar and proven technology of vacuum tubes for this early test unit. First Popular Home Video Game
    Like all the Ralph Baer prototypes, TV Game Unit #1 was used as evidence in many patent infringement cases. It still bears many of the court exhibit labels left over from these trials, as may be seen from the photograph. First Popular Home Video Game


Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1966 First Popular Home Video Game

inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
patent holder
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    aluminum (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
    glass (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 4 1/4 in x 6 in x 5 in; 10.795 cm x 15.24 cm x 12.7 cm

ID Number
    2006.0102.01 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.01 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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Data Source
    National Museum of American History 

 
Heathkit IG-62 Alignment Generator Used with TV Game Unit #1, 1967



Description
    This ordinary piece of test equipment played an important role in video game history. First Popular Home Video Game
    In 1966, while working for Sanders Associates, Inc., engineer Ralph Baer began to look into new ways to use television, focusing specifically on interactive games. Baer had received his bachelor’s in television engineering and was familiar with television test equipment that could meet his needs while keeping cost down. This Heathkit IG-62 Color Bar and Dot Generator, which was used to adjust television sets, provided the key circuitry needed to create an image on a television screen. This allowed Baer and his colleagues to devote their time and attention to develop a way for anyone to be able to move that image. First Popular Home Video Game
    In 1967, Baer created the first of several video game test units. Called TVG#1 or TV Game Unit #1, the device, when used with an alignment generator like the Heathkit IG-62, produced a dot on the television screen that could be manually controlled by the user. Once they were able to interact with the television, Baer and his team could design increasingly sophisticated interfaces and programs. First Popular Home Video Game


Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

maker
    Heathkit First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    metal (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 10 in x 13 1/4 in x 11 in; 25.4 cm x 33.655 cm x 27.94 cm First Popular Home Video Game

ID Number
    2006.0102.02 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.02 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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Data Source
    National Museum of American History First Popular Home Video Game


The Brown Box Lightgun, 1967–68


Description
    This toy gun proves that target-shooting games were part of video game history from the very beginning.
    This lightgun was used to play the Target Practice game on the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Magnavox licensed the Brown Box and released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. The lightgun and four target games were later sold as a separate expansion package. First Popular Home Video Game

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1967-1968 First Popular Home Video Game

patent holder
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    plastic (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 2 1/2 in x 26 in x 6 in; 6.35 cm x 66.04 cm x 15.24 cm

ID Number
    2006.0102.06 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.06 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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Data Source
    National Museum of American History First Popular Home Video Game


The Pump Unit, 1967



Description
    The first video games were played on this machine.
    With the use of changing screen color and moving dots, TV Game Unit #2 allowed two players to compete against each other in seven different games. These games included a variety of chase games, a target-shooting game, and games that required the wooden handle attached to the unit’s lower right hand corner (see photograph). The handle was moved up and down, like a pump, in the course of certain games. In honor of this unusual game play, TV Game Unit #2 was rechristened “The Pump Unit.”
    Baer and his team demonstrated the "Pump Unit" to Sanders senior management on June 15, 1967. The presentation was successful and now the team had a new goal: to turn this technology into a commercially viable product. After a few years and numerous test and advancements, Baer and his team delivered the “Brown Box,”[hyperlink] a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. It would be licensed to Magnavox, who released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. First Popular Home Video Game
    Like all the Ralph Baer prototypes, the "Pump Unit" was later used as evidence in many patent infringement cases. It still bears many of the court exhibit labels left over from these trials, as can be seen from the photograph. First Popular Home Video Game

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1967 First Popular Home Video Game

patent holder
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    aluminum (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
    wood (handle material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 6 1/2 in x 19 in x 14 in; 16.51 cm x 48.26 cm x 35.56 cm

ID Number
    2006.0102.03 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.03 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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Data Source
    National Museum of American History First Popular Home Video Game


The Brown Box, 1967–68




Description
    This machine paved the way for the video games of today.
    In 1967, Ralph Baer and his colleagues at Sanders Associates, Inc. developed a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Since Sanders hoped to license the technology for a commercial venture, Baer understood that the games had to be fun or investors and consumers would not be interested. In an oral history interview (copies available in the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History), Ralph Baer recalled, “The minute we played ping-pong, we knew we had a product. Before that we weren’t too sure.” First Popular Home Video Game
    Originally called TV Game Unit #7, much like the "Pump Unit" before it, it became far better known by its nickname, “The Brown Box.” The name comes from the brown wood-grain, self-adhesive vinyl used to make the prototype look more attractive to potential investors. The "Brown Box," though only a prototype, had basic features that most video games consoles still have today: two controls and a multigame program system. First Popular Home Video Game
    The "Brown Box" could be programmed to play a variety of games by flipping the switches along the front of the unit, as can be seen in the picture. Program cards were used to show which switches needed to be set for specific games. "Brown Box" games included ping-pong, checkers, four different sports games, target shooting with the use of a lightgun and a golf putting game, which required the use of a special attachment. Sanders licensed the "Brown Box" to Magnavox, which released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. First Popular Home Video Game

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game
   
Date made
    1967-1968 First Popular Home Video Game

patent holder
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
maker
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    aluminum (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
    vinyl (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 4 1/4 in x 16 in x 12 1/2 in; 10.795 cm x 40.64 cm x 31.75 cm First Popular Home Video Game

ID Number
    2006.0102.04 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.04 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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    Baer First Popular Home Video Game

Data Source
    National Museum of American History


The Brown Box Program Cards, 1967–68


Description
    These oddly cut index cards are actually programs for the very first video games. First Popular Home Video Game
    These program cards were used with the “Brown Box,” prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Users of the "Brown Box" could play a variety of games by flipping the switches along the front of the unit. The games included ping-pong, checkers, four different sports games, target shooting with the use of a lightgun and a golf putting game which required the use of a special attachment. First Popular Home Video Game
    To play these games, the user placed one of these program cards between the two sets of switches on the "Brown Box" (as you can see in the picture). The dots on the card indicated in which position the switches should be set. Magnavox licensed the "Brown Box" and released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972, with the switch system replaced by a plug-in game slot and plastic program cards. First Popular Home Video Game

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1967 First Popular Home Video Game

patent holder
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    paper (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    program cards: 3 in x 5 in; 7.62 cm x 12.7 cm
    envelope: 3 3/4 in x 6 1/2 in; 9.525 cm x 16.51 cm

ID Number
    2006.0102.05 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.05 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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    Baer First Popular Home Video Game

Data Source
    National Museum of American History


TV Game Unit #8, 1968


Description
    What do you do after you invent the video game? Try to make it better! First Popular Home Video Game
    While preparing their video game system prototype, the “Brown Box” to be presented to potential investors, Ralph Baer and his colleague Bill Harrison created TV Game Unit #8. They wanted to demonstrate a more advanced technology that would allow the user’s paddle to determine, in the direction and speed of the game ball, when the two would collide. This would allow for games such as baseball and more realistic hockey game play. First Popular Home Video Game
    This TV Game Unit #8 interfaced with the "Brown Box," but proved too expensive to pursue in these early stages. Since it was not going to be shown to investors just yet, it was never covered with brown wood grain self-adhesive vinyl to match the "Brown Box." A few years later, this technology was key when Baer and his colleagues started to design and build arcade games. First Popular Home Video Game

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1968 First Popular Home Video Game

patent holder
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    aluminum (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 3 1/4 in x 12 1/4 in x 10 1/4 in; 8.255 cm x 31.115 cm x 26.035 cm First Popular Home Video Game

ID Number
    2006.0102.07 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.07 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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Data Source
    National Museum of American History First Popular Home Video Game


The Brown Box Golf Game Accessory, 1968


Description
    This strange-looking contraption was actually used to play an early video game. First Popular Home Video Game
    To play the golf game on the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system, Baer and his colleagues mounted a golf ball on a joystick handle. This allowed the player to use a real golf club to practice his or her putting skills. Magnavox licensed the "Brown Box" and released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. Though it was never produced commercially, the golf accessory was covered with brown wood-grain, self-adhesive vinyl so that it would match the "Brown Box."

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1968 First Popular Home Video Game

patent holder
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    aluminum (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
    paper (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
    vinyl (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 6 in x 10 1/4 in x 4 1/2 in; 15.24 cm x 26.035 cm x 11.43 cm First Popular Home Video Game

ID Number
    2006.0102.11 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.11 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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Data Source
    National Museum of American History


Magnavox Odyssey Video Game Unit, 1972


Description
    When most people think about the first video game, they think of Pong, the ping-pong arcade game released by Atari in 1972. However, months earlier, Magnavox had released its Magnavox Odyssey, a home video game system based on the “Brown Box,” a prototype invented by Ralph Baer. Additional games and accessories, like a lightgun, were sold in separate packages.
    Since the Odyssey had limited graphic capabilities and displayed only a few small white blocks and a vertical line on the screen, Magnavox included translucent color overlays to provide settings and layouts for the games. Perhaps most surprising to modern gamers, the Odyssey also came with nonelectronic game accessories such as dice, decks of cards, play money, and poker chips. These accessories were possibly included to make the Odyssey more like the physical games that existed at the time.
    With approximately 350,000 units sold, Magnavox Odyssey was not considered a commercial success, especially in comparison with Pong’s runaway popularity. Among the contributing factors, poor marketing played a large role. Many potential consumers were under the impression—sometimes encouraged by Magnavox salesmen—that Odyssey would only work on Magnavox television sets. Despite these setbacks, Magnavox Odyssey made its mark by starting the video game console industry.

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1972 First Popular Home Video Game

inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
manufacturer
    Magnavox Company

Physical Description
    plastic (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 3 3/4 in x 16 1/2 in x 16 1/2 in; 9.525 cm x 41.91 cm x 41.91 cm First Popular Home Video Game

ID Number
    2006.0102.08 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.08 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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    Baer First Popular Home Video Game

Data Source
    National Museum of American History


Simon Electronic Game, 1978

 






Description
    The Father of the Video Game was also the inventor of Simon.
    Inventor Ralph Baer is best known for developing the first video game system, but he accomplished far more. In 1975, Baer started an independent consulting business and began to work in association with Marvin Glass & Associates in Chicago, the toy design firm responsible for some of the most successful American toys of the 20th century. Baer’s job was to develop electronic toys and games. The best-known result of this partnership was Simon.
    Named for the children’s game of “Simon Says,” the game was inspired by an Atari arcade game called Touch Me. Baer and Howard Morrison, a partner at Marvin Glass, first saw Touch Me at a trade show in 1976. Both agreed that while the execution of the arcade game was horrible, the game itself—trying to repeat a musical sequence the machine created—was worthy of exploration. The two set about creating a handheld game around the same concept. First Popular Home Video Game
    Like Touch Me, Simon had four different colored buttons. Each button played a unique note. Players had to be able to repeat an increasingly long string of tones that Simon created. If you got the order wrong, you lost. Baer was aware that choosing Simon’s four tones was a critical decision. He and Morrison both felt that one of Touch Me’s main failings was that its sounds were unpleasant.
    But how to choose four notes that could be played in any sequence and not hurt the ears? Baer found the answer while looking through his children’s Compton's Encyclopedia. He discovered that the bugle can only plays four notes. So, Simon would play those same four bugle notes. First Popular Home Video Game
    Simon was released by Milton Bradley in 1978 with much fanfare, including a midnight release party at Studio 54, the elite disco in New York City. An instance success, the game reached its peak during the 1980s and continued to sell for decades thereafter.
    Baer was very careful to document in his patent application that Simon was based on Atari’s Touch Me, given his past history with the company. Years earlier, Atari was sued for patent rights infringement. At the center of the controversy were the video game prototypes invented by Ralph Baer. With Simon, Baer found himself on the other side of the story. His patent was to protect his innovations, rather than an original game idea.

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1978 First Popular Home Video Game

inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
manufacturer
    Milton Bradley Company First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    plastic (overall material) First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 3 in x 10 1/2 in; 7.62 cm x 26.67 cm

ID Number
    2006.0102.09 First Popular Home Video Game
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.09 First Popular Home Video Game
   
accession number
    2006.0102 First Popular Home Video Game

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer First Popular Home Video Game

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    Baer  First Popular Home Video Game

Data Source
    National Museum of American History


Maniac Electronic Game, 1979


Description
    Ralph Baer is best known for developing the first video games, but he has accomplished more than that.
    In 1975, Baer, an engineer and inventor, started an independent consulting business and began to work in association with Marvin Glass & Associates in Chicago, the toy design firm responsible for some of the most successful American toys of the 20th century. Baer’s job was to develop electronic toys and games. The best-known result of this partnership was Simon.
    In light of Simon’s success, Baer was asked by Marvin Glass to create another electronic game that was similar in nature. The result was Maniac, which was released by Ideal Toy Company in 1979. It was a multiple-player, sound-based game that required quick reflexes and the ability to identify and recall tonal sequences (rather than merely repeating them as they had with Simon). In an oral history interview (audio copies available in the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center), Baer admitted that the game was “really hard to play. You have to want to play games to want to play Maniac.” This could be the reason that Maniac never matched the popularity of Simon.  First Popular Home Video Game

Location
    Currently not on view First Popular Home Video Game

Date made
    1979 first popular home video game


inventor
    Baer, Ralph H. First Popular Home Video Game
   
manufacturer
    Ideal Toy Company First Popular Home Video Game

Physical Description
    plastic (overall material)  First Popular Home Video Game
   
Measurements
    overall: 2 1/2 in x 10 1/2 in x 10 1/2 in; 6.35 cm x 26.67 cm x 26.67 cm

ID Number
    2006.0102.10
   
catalog number
    2006.0102.10
   
accession number
    2006.0102

Credit Line
    Ralph H. Baer

See more items in
    Medicine and Science: Computers
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    Computers & Business Machines
    Family & Social Life
    Baer

Data Source
    National Museum of American History 

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