Ralph Baer, Ralph, America discussed on The Past and the Curious


Well, hello, everybody, happy whatever it is when you're listening to this to you. My name is Mick Sullivan and this is the past and the curious. Maybe it's December when you're listening to this. Maybe it's November. Maybe it's January, maybe it's 2028. I don't know. Hello in the future. Anyway, I get a lot of emails. And a lot of people suggest many different things to consider for an episode. But I have to say the number one thing that I have gotten requests for has been video game history. And I like video games, like I had a Nintendo and NES when I was a kid. I've had a few other game consoles through the years, but it's not how I spend my time. It's never really been my thing. I think it's cool, but it's never really been my thing. But luckily, there are some really awesome stories, particularly of the people behind the devices that you use and enjoy. Actually, the first story is a man named Ralph Baer. He escaped Nazi Germany and became a pioneer in video games, and just a few years later, a black engineer named Jerry Lawson took some of those ideas and really expanded upon them, and we have those two guys to thank for an awful lot. One summer day, in 1966, Ralph Baer couldn't get an idea out of his head. It wasn't a new idea. He had thought about it years before, but no one thought much of it when he suggested it, so he had moved on to other things. But now, while he waited for someone he knew at a busy bus station in New York City, he sketched out a more complete version of this idea. There was something there as boss would decide, soon, Ralph had the official thumbs up he needed to invent the very first home video game console. Ralph Bayer was born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1922. With the rise of the Nazi Party during his youth, this was an increasingly dangerous time and place for Jewish families. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and soon the rights of Germany's Jewish people were all but destroyed. The Nuremberg laws of 1935 limited the freedom of Jewish people throughout Germany, and they lost nearly all political power. These laws also meant Ralph and his fellow young Jewish students could no longer continue their educations. They were expelled from school. His parents, lottie, and Leo could see the rise of hate and danger that surrounded their family, and decided to flee before it was too late. Lottie's family had arrived in America back in 1895. Leo's job had brought a bit of money, and importantly, he could speak English. At the time, America had strict, often unfair rules about who could be issued a Visa to stay in America. Despite thousands of people being desperate to flee Europe, the American government refused more people than it accepted during this time. Some years, many of the allotted passes went unused. But the bears were fortunate and they're already in America family, savings, and fluency helped them get to New York and safety. Two months after they arrived, the event known as crystal knocked happened in their homeland. This state sanctioned rioting destroyed Jewish businesses, burned homes and took many of the first lives in what became known as the Holocaust. Fortunately, by that time, the recently arrived 16 year old Ralph was already hard at work in New York City. One day, after ten hours of stitching leather in a factory, he glanced at an ad in a magazine someone on the subway was reading. It was for a correspondence course to learn radio repair. Basically, pay to learn by mail. He paid the fee and completed the coursework which arrived regularly in his mailbox. And before long he was working as a radio technician. In 1943, he was drafted to serve in the United States Army. Ralph was more than willing to return to Europe and help stamp out the Nazi forces. His gift and interests and technology and native German tongue made him a great choice for military intelligence, and he actually worked under general and future president, Dwight Eisenhower. Around the time after World War II, there were probably only a few thousand television sets in America. Before the war, a Chicago man named Ulysses armand sanabria, the son of a Puerto Rican immigrant, launched one of the first television stations in the world. He had a dream for America, and at the war's end, he recruited 2000 returning soldiers to train at his new American television institute of technology. The lack of TVs and homes didn't face him. It's the wave of the future I can picture it now, a TV in every home. He knew that the world would need lots of expert technicians and Ralph Baer would be one of those 2000 soldiers trained to take care of the 2000 or so TVs in America. I wonder one ratio isn't a great business model, but luckily for him, by the time Ralph graduated, Ulysses vision was well on its way to coming true. TVs became the center of many family living rooms. As Ralph repaired machine after machine, he had a lot of time to think. It occurred to him. TVs are incredible, like maybe the most technologically advanced thing ever up to this point. But they only do one thing. Broadcast images someone else has sent. What if people could control what was happening on the TV? What if you could play games? In the 1950s, he was working for an electronics company and suggested it as a new approach to business. What? Nobody likes games. People want the news. And commentators giving opinions. Maybe an interview with an opera star here and there for fun, but games. We're well Ralph. So, Ralph filed the unappreciated genius idea in the back of his mind until he pitched it to a new company a decade later in 1966. By this time, there were millions of television sets in America alone. I love it. Here's two smart teammates to help you and $2500. Come back to me when you figure it out and we can have some fun playing pixelated television challenges, medium fast broadcast contests, maybe just video games, what? Come on Ralph, just make the machine. With his team of two other scientists, they worked in a secret room with circuit boards, television sets, buttons, wires, and a whole lot of creativity. In May of 1967, when Ralph and his fellow game designer William Harrison first plugged in their new invention to play the game, they programmed from Ralph's ideas. Ralph lost. It wasn't much of a game, though. They couldn't do much more than move a dot on a screen. So they had to get creative. A see through plastic sheet was placed over the television screen on which the image of a bucket was printed. The game console originally called channel LP or channel let's play, placed a blue dot on the screen, so it oriented towards the bottom of the bucket that was stuck to the television screen. Player a had a controller with a button. As did player B and when the game started, player a tried to fill up the bucket by moving the dot upwards to the top. Player B tried to stop it by pushing the water back down. This was simply controlled by which player pressed the single button the fastest and the most.

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