Ralph Baer (1922-2014)

Ralph Baer was an engineer and inventor particularly known for creating the first videogame console. Baer and his family came to the United States as German Jewish refugees in 1938 when Baer was sixteen years old and settled in the Bronx in New York City. Although he spent the majority of his career working within military defense contracting, he remained a passionate inventor of electronic games and toys. To support this passion, Baer established his consulting firm, R. H. Baer Consultants, in 1975, through which he partnered with well-known companies. Over the course of his life, his inventions and over one-hundred and fifty U.S. and international patents have contributed to the advancement of military defense, television technology, video gaming, electronic toys, and other electronic consumer products.

Updated: April 28, 2016

Introduction

Ralph Baer (born Rudolf Heinrich Baer on March 8, 1922, in Pirmasens, Germany; died on December 6, 2014, in Manchester, New Hampshire) was an engineer and inventor particularly known for creating the first videogame console for television sets. Baer and his family came to the United States as German Jewish refugees in 1938 when Baer was sixteen years old and settled in the Bronx in New York City. He gained a wide array of experience and knowledge by working in a number of technical capacities in the United States—initially as a factory worker, radio service technician, and intelligence expert on small arms in the army, and later as an engineer for various technological research and development firms.[1] Although he spent the majority of his career working within military defense contracting, he remained a passionate inventor of electronic games and toys. To support this passion, Baer established his consulting firm, R. H. Baer Consultants, in 1975, through which he partnered with well-known companies, such as the Chicago-based toy engineering firm Marvin Glass & Associates.[2] Over the course of his life, his inventions and over one-hundred and fifty U.S. and international patents have contributed to the advancement of military defense, television technology, video gaming, electronic toys, and other electronic consumer products.[3] His 1973 patent (U.S. patent 3,728,480) for the first television videogame system not only spurred the development of a now multibillion dollar television video gaming industry, but also afforded new possibilities for human-machine interaction.[4]

Family and Background

Ralph Henry Baer was born on March 8, 1922, in Pirmasens, Germany to German Jewish parents, Leo Baer (1894-1967) and Charlotte Laura “Lottie” Baer (maiden name Kirschbaum; 1899-1999).[5] Charlotte Baer was the daughter of James Kirschbaum (1869-1931),[6] a businessman in Guben, Germany, who owned the then centrally located department store, Kaufhaus J. Kirschbaum.[7] In Pirmasens, Charlotte Baer cared for Ralph and his sister, Ilse Baer (b. 1924),[8] as a homemaker.[9] His father Leo Baer ran a leather tannery business and supplied leather to the town’s major shoe factories, many of which were operated by family friends.[10] By the turn of the twentieth century, Pirmasens had become a center of German shoe manufacturing and supported over three hundred shoe production firms in the surrounding area.[11] However, this changed in the aftermath of World War I, as Pirmasens was put in a dire situation with half of the town destroyed and occupying troops taking over many remaining apartments and homes. Many of the shoe factories also went out of business during this time due to widespread inflation in the postwar period and the lack of necessary resources to maintain operations. Since shoe manufacturing was one of the town’s largest employers, massive unemployment and poverty spread with many people unable to care for themselves and their families.[12] At the request of Baer’s mother, the family moved from Pirmasens to Cologne in the mid-1920s. At the age of fourteen, Ralph was expelled from school under Nazi anti-Semitic legislation and began working in a small office where he learned shorthand, filing, bookkeeping, and typing. Shortly before what came to be called Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” in 1938, the family fled to the Netherlands and sailed from Rotterdam to New York City to settle in the Bronx that same year.[13]

During this time, the events of 1938, including Germany’s annexation of Austria, the Reichskristallnacht, increasing assaults on Jewish and minority populations, and initial boycotts then seizures of Jewish-owned properties, encouraged a major wave of Jewish immigration to countries such as the United States, Great Britain, countries in Central and South America, places on the African continent, and even Shanghai. By 1939, nearly 400,000 Jews had emigrated from Germany and the newly annexed Austria before it was officially prohibited by the Nazi regime two years later in 1941.[14] Fortunately for the Baer family, their maternal relatives in the United States provided the necessary affidavits for their immigration, and since they also spoke English, they were able to more easily obtain visas from the consulate in Stuttgart to enter the U.S.[15] In the 1930s, immigration to the United States was not always a straightforward process due to country quotas, a medical examination, and regulations requiring specific documentation (affidavits) from hopeful immigrants and their sponsors in the United States—including proof that individuals and families could support themselves as to not overburden public welfare resources. Baer and his family were among the 27,370 immigrants from Germany that were allowed to enter the country in 1938.[16]

After arriving in New York at the age of sixteen, Baer worked in his cousin’s factory, Prager & Rueben, co-owned by his cousin Ralph Singer Prager and colleague Fred Ruebenacker, a German who had immigrated to the United States in the 1920s.[17] The factory produced leather manicure kits for the cosmetics company Avon.[18] There, Baer showed an early aptitude for invention and innovation by designing a feature for the machine to stitch five or six cases at the same time, which accelerated the factory’s production process.[19] His interest in machines and technology continued with his enrollment in correspondence courses offered by the National Radio Institute in Washington DC. Having been forced to leave school at the age of fourteen under Nazi persecution, the correspondence courses gave Baer the opportunity to gain technical knowledge and continue a formal education. He spent a quarter of his $12 weekly wages ($186 in 2010 USD) to finish the technical courses and began working as a radio and television service technician in 1940.[20]

In the 1920s and 30s, radio became a wide-spread commercial product that provided a new means of communication and many Americans with a source for gathering information and entertainment at home. It not only transformed society into a mass culture, but also blurred the lines between public and private spheres as radio broadcasting entered home life as a prominent and popular device.[21] Televisions were not yet as popular as radios during this time, but did begin to emerge as a commercial product by 1937. Early commercial television sets featured small screens (as small as three inches in diameter) and cost between $125 and $600 (between $1,900 and $9,110 in 2010 USD).[22] Even in the immediate postwar period, television sets remained too expensive and experimental for the majority of Americans and thus did not become a widely purchased product until the 1950s when Baer began conceptualizing video game technology.[23] Since radios and televisions relied upon functioning vacuum tubes and discrete components, such as capacitors and resistors, that would often short or burn out, they required mechanical maintenance. For this reason, Baer was able to make a decent wage and gain technical experience by replacing mechanical parts, converting AC sets to AC/DC, and by installing roof antennas for consumers to listen to the new FM radio stations that emerged in the early 1940s.[24]   

Baer’s life took another turn in 1943 when he was drafted into the army and sent to become a combat engineer at Fort Dix, New Jersey. During basic training, he missed working on radios and began to fix any radios that were lying around. He also wrote his first technical paper, “Converting Radios from AC to AC/DC Operation,” which describes the theory and praxis of transfiguring radios.[25] However, shortly after two months the army sent him to Camp Ritchie in Maryland, which became the army’s first centralized military intelligence training center in 1942. The center focused in particular on training U.S. soldiers from German or Italian-speaking households in interrogation tactics to assist in military intelligence operations.[26] At Camp Ritchie, Baer found himself among other Jewish Germans who had fled Germany—a group that has come to be called “the Ritchie Boys.” As U.S. soldiers, they were trained in intelligence and psychological warfare.[27] Baer spent a majority of his time collecting and writing information about different types of American, German, and Italian weapons, particularly how they mechanically functioned and were typically used. His knowledge of and experiences in Germany also led to his formulation of circulated materials and lectures on German history, culture, and on German soldiers, especially their uniforms, insignia, and ranks. He also tried to shed light on Hitler’s background, his rise to power, and the ways in which German citizens were socialized within the political climate of the day.[28] As a soldier, he went overseas, initially on a British freighter (the Mataroa) to Liverpool where he and his squad educated British soldiers on intelligence subjects, i.e. recognizing uniforms, interrogating enemy soldiers, handling foreign weapons, recognizing aircrafts, and running messages. Later, he spent time in Le Vésdinet, a suburb of Paris, where he worked on small arms weapons.[29] Baer’s work in intelligence and on domestic and foreign weapons demonstrates his continued interest in mechanical devices and technology. As a soldier, he even crafted radios from German mine detectors in order for him and his fellow servicemen to listen to music and radio programming.[30]         

After leaving the army in 1946, Baer got a job with Emerson Radio where he fixed nonfunctioning radio and television sets that came off of the factory production line. After three months and ready to move on, Baer began looking for a university to attend on his G.I. Bill. However, with the number of veterans trying to go to school on the G.I. Bill and the fact that his high school records were left behind in Germany, he had a difficult time finding a school that would accept him. After an interview, he attended the American Television Institute of Technology in Chicago where he earned his bachelor’s degree in television engineering. This degree was one of the first of its kind as televisions were in the midst of becoming a more popular consumer product. Between 1950 and 1955, television set sales rose from 3.1 million to an estimated 32 million.[31] Television programming also expanded with the transition of many radio programs to television and the establishment of new ones, such as ABC (American Broadcasting Company) in 1953.[32] At the Television Institute, Baer was given the opportunity to think about television’s potential by working with influential inventors such as Lee de Forest, one of the institute’s directors famous for having invented the vacuum tube and radio. De Forrest shared his project on a mechanical color television with Baer, which de Forest later patented along with a transistor and a videotape recorder between 1945 and 1955.[33]  

After Baer graduated with his bachelor’s in 1949, he took an engineering job with Wappler Inc., a small electro-medical equipment firm in New York City where he built medical machines (e.g. muscle toning, depilation, and DC galvanic equipment to treat muscles), but soon left to work for the Loral Electronics Corporation as a senior engineer in 1950.[34] Even though Loral, as a defense contractor, focused on the development and production of military equipment, Baer was commissioned with building a luxury, large screen television set with Leo Beiser, the later pioneer of laser beam information systems.[35] During his time at Loral, Baer began considering what other possibilities televisions could have and suggested including a game component in the televisions they were building. However, the idea was rejected and he was instructed to continue working on the television sets as planned.[36] Unfortunately, the company’s luxury television set did not take off, and after being denied a raise at Loral, Baer went to work as a chief engineer at Transitron in 1952. Transitron was one of the first high-tech companies in the Boston area that successfully produced military-spec, higher voltage, gold-bonded diodes and transistors.[37] The company also built radar equipment for the military, of which Baer was in charge. At Transitron, he filed for two patents for his development of a transmitter that was half the weight and size of existing models (U.S. patent 2,711,513 and together with Albert Axelrod U.S. patent 2,898,511).[38]

In 1952, Baer married Dena Whinston (1923-2006)[39] and in 1955 they had their first son, James Baer.[40] The couple later had two more children, Mark Baer (b. 1957) and Nancy Baer (b. 1960).[41] Soon after the birth of their first son, Baer moved with his family to Manchester, New Hampshire, to work with Van Norman Industries, a machine tool manufacturing firm.[42] Unsatisfied with the company, however, he left to work for another defense contracting firm located in Nashua, New Hampshire, in 1956 called Sanders Associates. He stayed there until his retirement in 1987.

Throughout his career, Baer predominantly worked for private military defense companies as a result of the rising federal financial allocations for national defense spending during the Cold War period. Many research and development as well as manufacturing firms emerged and grew during this time to capitalize on new business opportunities in the military defense industry. This provided ample opportunity for engineers like Baer working in the field. Between 1946 and 1969, the military spent an estimated one trillion dollars on defense, giving the fifty largest corporations in the United States over half of the prime military contracts annually and thus initiating what has been called the “military-industrial-complex.”[43] Focusing on new electronic, computer, and aerospace technologies, many firms sought to gain from this new opportunity.[44] The defense industry became an especially significant economic force in Nashua where Sanders Associates was located. Over the course of the Cold War period, Sanders had made a name for itself as a major player in defense technology by specializing in complex flexible circuit assemblies and printed wiring boards. In 1995, Sanders was sold to Lockheed and then in 2000 to BAE Systems, which continues to be a major employer in Nashua.[45] At Sanders in the 1950s, Baer worked on a number of electronic machines with military defense purposes. This included devices for use in covert operations that monitored Soviet transmissions in their various forms: FM, AM, single sideband, etc.[46] In 1958, he became a division manager and a chief engineer at Sanders and submitted numerous patents during his time at the company. His patents include, for example, an indicator announcing system (U.S. patent 3,320,604), a multilayer core memory process (U.S. patent 3,629,939), a parachute dereefing system (developed together with Hector R. Durocher and James A. Wentworth, U.S. patent 3,433,442), and a memory device (developed with Thomas L. Mc Cormack, U.S. patent 3,611,321).   

Along with these advances, Baer continued to consider alternative purposes for television sets and the incorporation of an interactive game function during his off-hours. Even though his game idea had been previously rejected at Loral in 1951, he decided to present it to the Sanders board of directors after outlining his design for interactive television game play on home television sets in 1966.[47] Baer, comparing himself to an artist, refused to stop perusing his passion for inventing and continued to promote his gaming ideas.[48] In his 1966 disclosure document (his first design concept), he even lists games that he thought would be possible to play on television sets back then, including action, board, artistic, instructional, chance, card, and sports games. At Sanders, he would be able to realize his designs, albeit not alone. As a division manager, he had various supervisory responsibilities and thus relied on his engineering team, Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch, to assist him. Together, the team would create the first television video game console that started the multibillion dollar industry that we have today.  

The Genesis of Television Video Gaming

Baer’s original schematic design shows the circuit building blocks needed to place two dots on a television that could then be manipulated and moved around the screen. Baer initially collaborated with an engineering technician at Sanders, Bob Tremblay, who built an experimental unit with him to test his theoretical model. They built the first console with vacuum tubes instead of the newly emerging transistors or early, more complex circuit chips used back then for sophisticated military software, because they were too expensive for use in a consumer product.[49] After demonstrating their experimental unit to the then Corporate Director of Research and Development, Herbert Campman, Baer was granted a $2,000 grant for research and $500 for materials ($16,800 total in 2010 USD). Since he worked for a military electronics company he tried to spin his idea by calling it “gaming” instead of a toy, since “gaming” was a term regularly used in the military.[50] Over the next few months, Baer met with another Sanders engineer, Bob Solomon, to sketch out game ideas and came up with descriptions for chase games, bucket-filling games, and skill games. This led Baer to design a scheme for electronic scoring of these games.[51] Soon thereafter, Baer brought two engineers, Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch, on the project. Bill Harrison was an engineering technician at Sanders, who tooknotes on their ideas and project developments and built much of the video game hardware by hand.[52] Bill Rusch, an engineer at Sanders, joined the team a little later than Harrison and collaborated with Baer on many of their game concepts. Their collaboration led to their famous two-player table tennis game in 1967, which later became one of the foundational Magnavox Odyssey games in 1972.[53] In 1967, they also built the first television video game console called theBrown Box, their prototype for the later Magnavox Odyssey.[54] In 1969, they filed their first video game patent on the apparatus and method of television gaming (U.S. patent 3,659,285 issued to Baer, Harrison, and Rusch) and Baer later patented the “Television Gaming and Training Apparatus” under his name in 1973 (U.S. patent 3,728,480).  

In 1972, Sanders Associates licensed the video game system to Magnavox, who sold it as the Magnavox Odyssey that same year. The Odyssey unit was made up of a master control box, two player controls, and a set of program cards of different games. It also included plastic overlays that would stick to the screen to provide color and different backgrounds as well as a deck of playing cards, poker chips, and a pair of dice to accompany the electronic games.[55] As the first videogame console for home use, it sold 130,000 units in its first year on the market. However, according to Baer Magnavox limited their sales by pricing the consoles too high and by only selling them in their own retail stores. Magnavox sold the product for $100 ($521 in 2010 USD) instead of Baer’s recommended $19.95 ($104 in 2010 USD) and gave the false impression that the system only worked on Magnavox sets.[56] Along with poor marketing, this hindered the Magnavox Odyssey from being as successful as hoped. Rather than from console sales, Sanders and Magnavox made money from a number of lucrative patent infringement cases.[57] Despite sales limitations, the release of the Magnavox Odyssey nonetheless launched a new industry of home television video gaming that changed television’s function from a passive to an interactive device.   

Controversies

Although their patents and Brown Box unit establish Baer and his team as the first creators of the television video game console, there is continuing controversy surrounding the question of who actually first invented video games. Early electronic games were developed on computer platforms, the earliest of which goes back to 1940 to a computer game developed by Edward U. Condon, Willard A. Derr, and Gereld L. Tawney. They transformed a traditional game called Nim, a mathematical strategy game where players try to avoid picking up the last matchstick, to a computer playing environment (U.S. patent 2,215,544).[58] Another early video game emerged in 1947 (U.S. patent 2,455,992) called the “Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device” made by Thomas T. Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann. It used cathode-ray tubes to display rays or electron beams that could be manipulated for game play. Their device was the world’s first interactive game played on a cathode-ray tube, but was not transformed into a commercial product given technological and resource limitations.[59] Computer games continued to advance in the 1950s when Claude Shannon and Alan Turing created their respective chess programs. Shannon discusses how the chess computer program worked as well as its possible implications for advancement in computer processing in his paper, “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess."[60] Computers also became the platform for A.S. Douglas’s OXO tic-tac-toe (or noughts and crosses) game in 1952, which Douglas hoped to use for the further study of human-computer interactions.[61] In 1958, William Higinbotham, a nuclear physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Instrumentation Division for Brookhaven National Laboratory, introduced an electronic video game called Tennis for Two on Brookhaven’s annual visitor’s day. In an attempt to make the visitor’s day more interesting to the public, Higinbotham gave visitors the option of playing the game on an oscilloscope and analog computer. Tennis for Two is very similar to table tennis on the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari’s later game, Pong. As such, it is often cited as the forerunner to commercial videogames. However, Higinbotham did not patent his Tennis for Two, since he neither realized the significance of his development nor did he see his game as particularly novel.[62] Another often cited event in the history of video gaming is the digital computer game called Spacewar! created by MIT students Steve Russell, J. Martin Graetz, and Alan Kotok in 1962.[63] It was an interactive, two-person game played on a PDP-1 computer, which in the early 1960s cost around $120,000 ($865,000 in 2010 USD), making it a commercially inviable product.[64] Although these pioneering inventions all gave way to electronic gaming as we know it today, the Magnavox Odyssey is considered the first commercialized television video game console for home use.[65] Soon after the Odyssey went to market, many other developers tried to create their own videogame versions—the most famous of which is Atari’s Pong. However, since Baer, Harrison, and Rusch’s patents laid legal claims over any product that moved images on a domestic television set with circuits, a number of legal battles ensued.[66]  

For over twenty years, their patents led to a number of legal disputes between video game developers and the patent’s exclusive licensee, Magnavox. Baer is often criticized for the numerous lawsuits—that he allegedly “never did anything with that patent, except sue.”[67] Baer defended himself against such critics by explaining that Magnavox spearheaded the lawsuits on their own behalf and for the benefit of themselves and Sanders. The patents, after all, were assigned to Sanders and licensed to Magnavox, which granted them the royalties from sales and legal disputes.[68] The first lawsuit began in 1976 when Magnavox and Sanders sued a number of companies who produced and sold games similar to Odyssey’s table tennis, including Bally Manufacturing Corporation (Bally Playtime), Midway Mfg. Co. (Winner), Chicago Dynamic Industries Inc. (TV Ping Pong), Empire Distributing Inc., Seeburg Industries (Paddle Ball), Sears Roebuck & Co. (Atari Pong—home edition), and Atari Inc. (Pong). The court ruled in favor of Magnavox deciding that the competitors’ games infringed on the patents licensed to Magnavox. Decisive here was the fact that the games contained or used a “play-controlled hitting symbol.” In other words, the various devices allowed players to manipulate symbols that could hit each other (like a ball hitting a paddle) within a video game on a television screen. This decision set an important precedent on the strength of pioneer patents. It also required all manufacturers to sublicense their product under Magnavox (as the license holder) in order to legally sell video games and consoles using technology similar to that protected under Baer, Harrison, and Rusch’s patents.[69] During the legal proceedings, Atari purchased a non-exclusive cross license from Magnavox to continue producing and selling their famous arcade and home game Pong, agreeing to pay $1.5 million ($3,970,000 in 2010 USD) in installments between 1976 and 1983.[70]

After their success in this first major legal battle, Magnavox went on to sue other patent infringers, such as Mattel for its Intellivision Gaming Console in 1982. Even though Mattel used a more advanced digital processing technology than Magnavox’s analog processor, Mattel was found guilty for using the “play-controlled hitting symbol” patented technology also at stake in the 1976 legal dispute. For the same reason, Activision Inc. also lost their legal battle against Magnavox and Sanders in 1986. Activision, an independent game developer, created video games for a number of consoles including Atari systems. As was determined, not only game consoles, but also game cartridges fall under the patented technology and as such require a sublicense under Magnavox. These legal decisions enabled Magnavox to maintain a monopoly of sorts over the video gaming industry through the required sublicenses.[71] The final lawsuit took place in 1998 against two arcade manufacturers, Data East and Taito, and like the earlier suits this too went in favor of Magnavox and Sanders.[72] In the end, Magnavox and Sanders collected close to one hundred million dollars from successful litigations of patent infringement lawsuits.[73]

Consulting and Additional Entrepreneurial Activity

As Sanders began receiving money from the lawsuits and Odyssey sales profits, Baer was given a new role and the title of Engineering Fellow at Sanders, which afforded him more freedom to work on projects of his choosing. He was also given bonuses and company stock options between 1976 and 1985 amounting to an estimated quarter million dollars ($507,000 in 2010 USD). As an engineering fellow, Baer worked with research and development groups to create advanced display technology as well as video-based training and simulations using VCR’s, Video-Discs, DC-ROMs and digital computers. At Sanders, Baer also transformed his video gaming insights to a military context by developing a precision rifle training apparatus for military training purposes (U.S. patent 4,395,045). He furthermore partnered with a company called Coleco to help develop their game called Telstar, another ping-pong game that ran on a new chip, an AY-3-8500 single chip. Baer helped them improve the device’s frequency stability to meet FCC (Federal Communications Commission) requirements.[74] Their successful partnering led to further partnerships that generated additional license income for Sanders. After working on the frequency stabilization, Baer and his team helped design new games for Coleco, making an arcade and combat game as well as their next generation Telstar Alpha game unit.[75]  

In 1975, he also began working independently during his off-time to design and develop electronic toys and games through his newly founded consulting firm, R. H. Baer Consultants. He continued this work well after his retirement from Sanders in 1987.[76] Through his consulting firm, Baer partnered with well known-companies such as Hallmark, for example, for whom he designed the first talking cards. Even though most of his card designs did not make it to the market place, Hallmark kept him on salary as an outside consultant for about two and a half years. He also developed a recording device for FTD Flowers, which allowed people to record a voice message onto a keepsake to be delivered with the flowers.[77] As an outside consultant for Marvin Glass & Associates, one of the most important toy designing firms of the twentieth century, Baer collaborated on the development of programmable, R/C record changers (U.S. patent 4,093,832 together with Howard J. Morrison, Donald K. Fletchie, and Albert G. Keller), the invention and production of single-chip, microprocessor controlled games such as Simon and Maniac (the technology for which is patented under the following: U.S. patent 4,207,087 with Howard J. Morrison, U.S. patent 4,216,965 with Howard J. Morrison and Jeffrey D. Breslow, and U.S. patent 4,240,638 with Howard J. Morrison and Jeffrey D. Breslow).[78] Baer also partnered with Smith Engineering to create interactive VCR games (U.S. patent 4,786,967 with Jay Smith III and J. Curran), a “Smarty-Bear Video System”—a stuffed animal bear that talked to cartoon friends on-screen (U.S. patent 4,846,693), and an IR-shooting product called “Laser Command.”[79] Later, he collaborated with Western Publishing to create voice storage and playback devices for their interactive children’s books called “Sounds-by-Me” (U.S. patent 5,531,600). He furthermore worked with Milton-Bradley to create “Bike Max,” speaking bicycles that played back the bike’s speed, distance traveled, and warnings to prevent bicycle theft (U.S. patent 5,737,247 with Philip Orbanes, Mark Ragoza, and James Ryan). With Hasbro, he helped produce a line of “Talking Tools” for children in 2000.[80]

Conclusion

Throughout his life, Baer remained a passionate inventor of electronic games and toys.[81] Not only did his concept for an at-home video gaming console spur the development of a multibillion dollar television video gaming industry, it also changed the way humans interacted with machines for the purposes of interactive play. His invention received international acclaim and afforded him visits back to Germany later in life. He visited Germany for the first time in 2006 to visit the Computerspielemuseum in Berlin, which he financially sponsored, to give an interview and donate one of his Brown Boxes.[82] In 2008, Baer also visited his birth place, Pirmasens, to donate a Brown Box to their Dynamikum Science Center. In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, Baer was an honored guest at gaming symposia and conferences.[83]  In the United States, Baer also received numerous prestigious honors for his inventions and innovations. In 2004, President George W. Bush credited him as a leading innovator in the United States by presenting him with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.[84] In 2007, the University of New Hampshire School of Law granted him an honorary Doctorate of Law to honor his innovation and creativity.[85] On two different occasions, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) selected him as the winner of two awards: He received the IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award in 2008 for his commercialization of interactive video games and consumer toys, and in 2014 he accepted the IEEE Edison Medal for his fundamental contribution to the videogame and interactive media industries.[86] In 2010, he entered into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work on videogame technology,[87] and in 2014 his achievements were also recognized by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in their annual “Great Immigrants – The Pride of America” announcement.[88] Most recently, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC featured Baer’s Brown Box and lab in a July 2015 special exhibit on American innovation.[89]

Notes

[1] Ralph Baer, “Biography,” http://www.ralphbaer.com/biography.htm (accessed June 15, 2015); Ralph Baer,Oral History, Computer History Museum, interviewed by Gardner Hendrie, October 12, 2006 and November 27, 2006,  (accessed June 15, 2015). 

[2] Steven Kent, The Ultimate History of Video Games: from Pong to Pokémon and Beyond. The Story behind the Craze that Touched our Lives and Changed the World (New York: Crown/Archetype, 2010).

[3] Ralph Baer, “Inventions & Products,” RalphBaer.com (accessed June 30, 2015); Douglas Martin, “Ralph H. Baer, Inventor of First System for Home Video Games, is Dead at 92,” The New York Times, December 7, 2014,  (accessed June 12, 2015); “Meet Ralph Baer, the Father of Video Games,” YouTube video, 17:21, posted by Motherboard on December 8, 2014; Ralph Baer, Videogames in the Beginning (Springfield: Rolenta Press, 2005), 4. 

[4] Martin, “Ralph H. Baer;” Jeff Look, “Simon Says: Invent,” Inventors Eye 1.2 (2010) (accessed June 15, 2015); “Ralph Baer in the U.S. Cemetery and Funeral Home Collection,”Ancestry.com, December 6, 2014; Ralph Baer, “Biography.”

[5] Ancestry.com. U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA.

[6] JewishGen.org, “JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry-Germany” [database on-line], New York.  

[7] Given its central location in the city of Guben, the Kaufhaus was often featured in pre-WWII postcards: http://oldthing.de/AK-Guben-Klosterstrasse-Salzmarktstrasse-Brauerei-G-Kroell-Kaufhaus-J-Kirschbaum-0016184136 (accessed July 16, 2015); “Guben: Klosterstrasse Richtung Markt um 1915,” Der Märkische Bote, July 25, 2011 (accessed July 16, 2015); Ralph H. Baer, “One Inventor’s Odyssey” (2006), Ralph H. Baer Papers, 1943-2006, Box 5, Folder 1-2, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. 

[8] Ancestry.com, “1940 United States Federal Census.”

[9] Ancestry.com, “Ralph Baer in the U.S. Cemetery and Funeral Home Collection,” December 6, 2014; Edwin Britt Wyckoff, The Guy who Invented Home Video Games: Ralph Baer and his Awesome Invention (New York: Enslow Publishers, 2011), 8.

[10] Ralph Baer, Oral History; Ralph H. Baer, “One Inventor’s Odyssey.” 

[11] Elisabeth Dostert, “Kaisers neue Schuhe,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 21, 2013 (accessed June 16, 2015).

[12] Juliane Märker, “Geschichte der Stadt Pirmasens,” Regional Geschichte.net, August 11, 2013 (accessed June 16, 2015)

[13] Ralph Baer, “Biography;” Ralph Baer, Oral History; Ralph Baer, “The Replay Interviews: Ralph Baer,” interviewed by Tristan Donovan, Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games (accessed August 18, 2015). 

[14]German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1939,”United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, June 20, 2014  (accessed June 16, 2015).

[15] Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[16] Michael Schäbitz, “The Flight and Expulsion of German Jews,” Jews in Nazi Berlin: From Kristallnacht to Liberation, eds., Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon, and Chana Schütz (London: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 40-41.

[17] Ancestry.com, 1940 United States Federal Census; Ancestry.com, New York, State Census, 1925; Ralph H. Baer, “One Inventor’s Odyssey.”

[18] Ralph H. Baer, “One Inventor’s Odyssey.”

[19] Martin, “Ralph H. Baer.”

[20] Unless otherwise noted, all 2010 USD values calculated by using http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare (accessed June 19, 2015); Ralph Baer, “Biography;” Ralph Baer, Oral History. 

[21] Peter Liebhold, “The Corporate Era: 1860-1930,” American Enterprise: A History of Business in America, eds., Andy Serwer et al. (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2015), 97; Michele Hilmes and Jason Loviglio, Introduction, Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio, eds., Hilmes and Loviglio (New York: Routledge, 2002), xi-xii.

[22] William H Young and Nancy K. Young, World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010), 692.

[23] Kathleen G. Franz, “The Consumer Era,” American Enterprise: A History of Business in America, eds., Andy Serwer et al. (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2015), 125; Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[24] Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[25] Steven Karras, “Ralph Baer,” The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II (Minneapolis: MBI Publishing, 2009), 134.

[26] Chris Mackey and Greg Miller, The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against Al Qaeda (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004), 13-14.

[27] This group has been featured in documentary film, scholarly research, and literature. See for example, the Ritchie Boys, directed by Christian Bauer (2004, Tangram and Alliance Atlantis) (accessed July 16, 2015); Christian Bauer and Rebekka Göpfert, Die Ritchie Boys: deutsche Emigranten beim US-Geheimdienst (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2005); Kathryn Lang-Slattery, Immigrant Soldier: The Story of a Ritchie Boy (Pacific Grove: Pacific Bookworks, 2015).

[28] Ralph H. Baer Papers, 1943-2006, Box 3, Folder 4, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[29] Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[30] Ibid; Ralph H. Baer, “One Inventor’s Odyssey.”

[31] Franz, “The Consumer Era,” 125.

[32] Philippe Perebinossoff, Brian Gross, and Lynne S. Gross, “The History of Programming,” Programming for TV, Radio & the Internet: Strategy, Development & Evaluation (Burlington: Focal Press, 2005), 5-7.

[33] Ralph Baer, Oral History; Mike Adams, Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Television, and Film (New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2011), 1, 390.

[34] Loral Electronics was acquired by Lockheed Martin in 1996, although portions of Loral continued to exist as Loral Space and Communications. See “Loral Corporation,” NNDB (accessed July 15, 2015); James Sterngold, “Lockheed to Acquire Loral in a Deal Worth $10 Billion,” The New York Times, January 9, 1996 (accessed July 17, 2015).

[35] Ralph Baer, Oral History; “Ralph Baer,” NNDB (accessed July 15, 2015); Leo Beiser, Laser Scanning Notebook (Bellingham: SPIE Optical Engineering Press, 1992).

[36] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 3.

[37] Jack Ward, “A Survey of Early Power Transistors,” Semiconductor Museum (accessed July 17, 2015); “The Demise of Transitron,” The New York Times, June 30, 1986 (accessed July 17, 2015).

[38] Ralph H. Baer, “One Inventor’s Odyssey.”

[39] Ancestry.com. U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA.

[40] Ralph Baer, “Biography.”

[41] “Ralph Baer,” NNDB.

[42] Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[43] President Eisenhower introduced this term in his 1961 farewell speech to warn against the ensuing alliance between the Pentagon, large corporations, and politicians that influenced the amount and allocation of defense appropriations.

[44] Stanley Buder, Capitalizing on Change: a Social History of American Business (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 303.

[45] According to the city’s website, between 2000 and 2012 Nashua housed 3,643 defense contracts with a dollar stamp of $8,769,612,697; “Defense,” City of Nashua (accessed July 17, 2015).

[46] Ralph Baer, “Biography;” Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[47] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 18-19.

[48]Video Games, Inventors, PBS Digital Studios,” YouTube video, 3:25, posted by PBS Digital Studios, March 7, 2013.

[49] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 29.

[50]The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games,” The National Museum of American History (accessed June 12, 2015).

[51] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 30.

[52] Bill Harrison, “Bill Harrison, The First Video Game Hardware Guru,” interviewed by Benj Edwards, Vintage Computing and Gaming, May 15th, 2007 (accessed July 20, 2015).   

[53] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 32.

[54] “The Father of the Video Game.”

[55] Martin, “Ralph H. Baer.”

[56] Ibid; Ralph Baer, Videogames, 75.

[57] Peter Nowak, Sex, Bombs, and Burgers: How War, Pornography, and Fast Food Have Shaped Modern Technology (Guilford: Lyons Press, 2011), 132.

[58]Video Game History Timeline,” National Museum of Play (accessed July 22, 2015).

[59] Mark J.P. Wolf, Introduction, Before the Crash: Early Video Game History, ed., Wolf (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012), 1-2.

[60] Claude E. Shannon, “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess,” Philosophical Magazine 7.41 (1950).

[61] “Video Game History Timeline;” Steve Horowitz and Scott Looney, The Essential Guide to Game Audio: The Theory and Practice of Sound for Games (Burlington: Focal Press, 2014), 16.

[62]The First Video Game,” Brookhaven National Laboratory (accessed July 22, 2015).

[63] David H. Ahl, “Mainframe Games and Simulations,” The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to Playstation and Beyond, ed., Mark J.P. Wolf (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008), 33.

[64] Robert T. Bakie, “A Brief History of Video Games,” Introduction to Game Development, ed., Steve Rabin (Boston: Cengage Learning, 2010), 5.

[65] Leonard Herman, “Early Home Video Game Systems,” The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to Playstation and Beyond, ed., Mark J.P. Wolf (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008), 53.

[66] Martin, “Ralph H. Baer;” Michael del Castillo, “’Father of Video Games,’ Dead at 92, was also Pioneering Patent troll, December 8, 2014 (accessed July 26, 2015).

[67] del Castillo, “’Father of Video Games.”

[68] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 14-45; Ralph Baer, “Videogame History: Getting Things Straight,” Pong-Story (accessed July 27, 2015).

[69] Graham Morgan and Jeffrey L. Lee, “Controversy in Video Game Invention: The Infallible Pioneer Patent,” Computing Science (CS-TR-1173, 2009): 2-3, 13.

[70] Interestingly, Nolan Bushnell of Atari admits to having played Odyssey’s Table Tennis during its demonstration in 1972; Ahl, “Mainframe Games,” 36; Ralph Baer, Videogames, 5, 130; Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel, Atari Inc.: Business is Fun (Carmel: Syzygy Company Press, 2012), 226-230.

[71] Graham Morgan and Jeffrey L. Lee, “Controversy in Video Game Invention: The Infallible Pioneer Patent,” Computing Science (CS-TR-1173, 2009): 15-18.

[72] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 131.

[73] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 88.

[74] Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[75] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 142.

[76] Ralph Baer, Videogames, 139; Ralph Baer, “Biography.”

[77] Ralph Baer, Oral History.

[78] Sharon M. Scott, Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2007): 131-132; Ralph Baer, “Biography.”

[79] Ralph Baer, “Biography.”

[80] Ralph Baer, “Inventions & Products.” 

[81] Ralph Baer, “Inventor Portrait: Ralph Baer,” David Friedman Photography, March 4, 2012 (accessed July 28, 2015).

[82]Unser Schirmherr,“ Computerspielemuseum (accessed July 28, 2015). See his interviews:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8khOCIK-Dg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42BCU2DHKFU (accessed July 28, 2015); Sven Stillich, “Ein Spiel, ein Leben,” Stern, July 4, 2006 (accessed June 30, 2015).

[83] Ewald Trojansky, “Urvater der Spielkonsolen kehrt heim,” Stern, June 26, 2008 (accessed June 30, 2015).

[84]The National Medal of Technology and Innovation 2004 Laureates,” The United States Patent and Trademark Office (accessed June 30, 2015).

[85] John D. Hutson, Dean’s Message, Pierce Law 11.2 (2007).

[86]IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award,” IEEE (accessed June 30, 2015); “IEEE Edison Medal Recipients,” IEEE (accessed June 30, 2015).

[87]Inductees,” National Inventors Hall of Fame (accessed June 30, 2015).

[88] “Great Immigrants-The Pride of America: Celebrate July 4th with Stories of Immigrants who Make America Strong,” Carnegie Corporation of New York, July 2, 2014, https://www.carnegie.org/news/articles/great-immigrantsthe-pride-of-america-celebrate-july-4th-with-stories-of-immigrants-who-make-america-strong/ (accessed January 13, 2016); Guinness World Records 2015 Gamer’s Edition (New York: Macmillan, 2014), 22.

[89] David K. Allison, “Ralph Baer’s Workshop, Icon of American Innovation,” O Say Can You See (blog by the National Museum of American History), December 8, 2014  (accessed June 30, 2015).

 

Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Ralph Baer." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved August 14, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=70

Chicago Style

O'Dea, Meghan. "Ralph Baer." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 5, edited by R. Daniel Wadhwani. German Historical Institute. Last modified April 28, 2016. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=70

MLA Style

"Ralph Baer," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 14 Aug 2018 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=70>

Ralph Baer in his Lab

  • Baer’s Original Schematic, September 6, 1966
  • Brown Box, 1967-1968
  • Tennis for Two, 1958-1959
  • Magnavox Odyssey Unit, 1972

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