NPR logo
Inventor Ralph Baer Was An American Success Story
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/369402079/369402080" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Inventor Ralph Baer Was An American Success Story

Remembrances

Inventor Ralph Baer Was An American Success Story

Inventor Ralph Baer Was An American Success Story
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/369402079/369402080" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Ralph Baer, a video game pioneer who turned TV sets into visual playgrounds, died Saturday at the age of 92. Baer was a refugee from Nazi Germany who invented the first home video system.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, a remembrance for a father of video games. He passed away this past Saturday at the age of 92. NPR's Laura Sydell tells us about an inventor named Ralph Baer.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Baer was a great American success story. As a teenager he and his family fled Nazi Germany and came to the U.S., settling in the Bronx. Baer was drafted into the Army and after the war, he worked for a defense contractor, Sanders Associates. While he was there, he quietly began work on a side project creating interactive games for TVs, which were becoming pervasive in American households. Here's Baer in an interview with Vice TV explaining his thinking.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

RALPH BAER: So I thought that if I can attach something to a TV set, anything, I would have a real business, you know? That was the motivation.

SYDELL: Baer developed what he called his Brown Box. It attached to a TV and had controllers that could move dots on a screen. Sanders patented the technology and licensed it to TV maker Magnavox.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is Odyssey, the new electronic game simulator. You attach Odyssey to your television set in seconds to create a closed-circuit electronic playground.

SYDELL: Odyssey included several electronic programs and it had a game that resembled electronic Ping-Pong. Carl Goodman, the director of the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens says there were other computer games before Baer's Brown Box.

CARL GOODMAN: But it was Ralph - who was unaware of that work being done in very different circles - who really focused on bringing it into the home.

SYDELL: Several months after Odyssey in 1972, Atari released the arcade video game "Pong." Armed with Baer's patent, Magnavox sued for infringement and won. Baer's invention was central to the growing video game industry. There were more lawsuits and Baer was the perfect witness. Goodman says he used to speak to young people at the museum and when asked for advice about ideas, he'd say, write it down.

GOODMAN: If it weren't for the fact that Ralph wrote absolutely everything down, including of course the papers and filed the patents, then he would not have the recognition that he has today.

SYDELL: Baer himself didn't actually see all the money from his work, since he was an employee when he created his Brown Box. The Museum of the Moving Image has a replica of the box on display. Throughout Baer's life he continued to invent games and toys. Among them, a talking door mat and a memory game called "Simon" which was released in the disco days at Studio 54 in New York City. He donated his home workshop to the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It will be part of a long-term exhibition at the museum beginning in July.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.