Long considered the Father of the Video Game, Baer’s curiosity and persistence in the 1960s made possible the development and commercialization of the interactive video games and modern consoles we know and love today.
Speaking of today; Baer’s achievements and contributions continue to be recognized and celebrated even after his death in 2014. Most recently, Ralph was selected for induction into the Modeling and Simulation Hall of Fame in June 2016; honoring his passion, dedication, and perseverance that helped paved the way for the simulation industry…
Just before the outbreak of World War II, Baer and his family fled from Germany to begin anew in America. Shortly after entering the United States Baer changed his name, and within the next 10 years he’d graduated from the National Radio Institute, served three years in the U.S. Army, and received the first ever Television Engineering degree from the American Television Institute of Technology. Satisfied with his education, Baer was ready to focus on his career in electronics. He spent the next six years with various engineering firms before joining BAE Systems’ legacy business Sanders Associates in 1956 where he oversaw the development of electronic systems for the military.
A legacy of invention
In the 1960s, Baer noticed the proliferation of TV sets in American homes and began to wonder about alternate uses for the new technology. He saw the potential for invention in the marketplace and was inspired to act on it. With funding from Sanders and with the support of an intrigued manager, he started to explore the possibility of playing video games on televisions. It didn’t take him long; between 1966 and 1968 Baer built the prototypes that would become the basis of all home video games that followed.
“The idea of putting all those TV sets to a new use first occurred to me and the TV games concept was born,” said Baer. “Just the thought of tying a new commercial product on to even a small percentage of all those TV sets was pretty exciting.”
This included the development of the “brown box” — the very first home video game system — which was renamed the Magnavox Odyssey before it was released to the public in 1972. He went on to invent, develop, and patent many other hardware prototypes, consoles, consumer game units, and electronic toys. For example, we can also thank Baer for the well-known electronic matching game, Simon, as well as greeting cards that play a recorded song or message when they are opened.
Recognition for inspiration
Baer has continued to receive recognitions and awards since his early days of inventing; with his creations displayed in museums around the world. Perhaps one of the most notable recognitions was received in 2006, when President George W. Bush awarded Baer the National Medal of Technology for “his ground-breaking and pioneering creation, development, and commercialization of interactive video games, which spawned related uses, applications, and mega-industries in both the entertainment and education realms.”
He was later inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010 and received the IEEE Edison Medal in 2014 for “pioneering and fundamental contributions to the video – game and interactive multimedia – content industries.” Baer had been involved with more than 150 U.S. patents by the time of his death in December 2014.
In 2015, Baer’s innovative work garnered new recognition. Last July, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened an exhibit in its America Innovates wing featuring Baer’s home lab and inventions created during his tenure at Sanders. Then, in September, Baer’s brown box console was honored with an IEEE Milestone in recognition of outstanding technical development. And of course, in January 2016, he was selected for induction into the National Center for Simulation’s Modeling and Simulation Hall of Fame, for his contributions to the simulation industry.
The corollaries to Baer’s pioneering vision still reverberate through our company halls today. Through his work for Sanders, BAE Systems was instrumental in the development of the video game industry, as well as data visualization and interactive technologies. Today, those include virtual reality environments, which BAE Systems leverages for immersive ship design tools among other applications.
“Baer’s contributions to innovation changed not only millions of peoples’ home entertainment experiences, but also Sanders’ path for interactive technologies for military applications. As a technology company, the commitment to innovation modeled by Ralph Baer has been a real inspiration.”
Tom Arseneault, president of Electronic Systems at BAE Systems.
Baer’s entrepreneurial, industrious spirit runs through BAE Systems’ employees today, and the pride in our company’s role in the development of the video gaming industry remains.