Ralph H. Baer, the man widely acknowledged as the "father of video games" for his pioneering work in electronics and television engineering, died on Saturday at his home in Manchester, N.H. He was 92....My aunt had an Odyssey, and I would watch her and her friends play it. I don't remember ever getting to play it, but it may have been that I did, and I only really remember all the times I wanted to play it and didn't get to.
As the New York Times describes it, it was a sultry summer day in 1966 when Baer — who was working as an engineer for defense contractor Sanders Associates, now part of BAE Systems — scribbled out a four-page description for "game box" that would allow people to play action, sports and other games on a television set.
One Sanders executive saw potential in Baer's idea and gave him $2,500 and two engineers to work on the project. Over the years they churned out seven prototypes in a secret workshop, before landing on a version that Baer and Sanders would use to file the first video game patent in 1971.
The "Brown Box" was licensed to Magnavox and went on sale as the Odyssey in 1972 — the world's first video game system. The primitive system was all hardware and used "program cards" for games. Plastic overlays for the television screen provided color. Priced at $100 (though Baer had recommended $19.95), the Odyssey sold more than 100,000 units its first year and 300,000 by 1975.
When Atari's Pong debuted just months after the Odyssey went to market, Sanders and Magnavox sued them for copyright infringement. The case was settled for $700,000 and Atari became an Odyssey licensee. Over 20 years, Magnavox won more than $100 million in patent lawsuits involving the Odyssey, according to the New York Times.
Baer went on to hold more than 150 U.S. and foreign patents for his inventions, including everything from talking door mats and an automatic tone arm for programmable record players. Among his other famous inventions was the electronic memory game Simon, which he created with Howard Morrison, that went on to be a pop sensation and is still sold today.
Here's a video profile of Baer from 2012.