Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gerald ‘Jerry’ Lawson: Inventor of the Cartridge-based Video Game

Gerald ‘Jerry’ Lawson (1940-2011) is a singular figure in video game and computer history. He’s a self-taught electronics genius who, with incredible talents, audacity, and strong guidance from his parents, managed to end up at the top of his profession despite the cultural tides flowing against him. Jerry Lawson passed on April 8, 2011 at the age of 70.

Early Life & Education

Gereald ‘Jerry’ Lawson was originally a Queens native who moved out to Silicon Valley in the ’70s. He grew up in a Jamaica housing project and went to Queens College and CCNY. He moved out to Silicon Valley where he was a major part of the early tech scene.


Jerry Lawson has spent over 40 years in the electronics industry in a variety of fields, including video display technology, microwave and RF systems, optics, digital system design, video game hardware and software design and development, analog and digital computers, satellite technology and much more. During his career he has worked for many well known companies such as Signetics, Fairchild, Kaiser Electronics, Monolithic Memories, PRD Electronics, Grumman Aircraft, ITT and others.

In the early 1980′s he started his own company, Videosoft, that produced video games for the Atari 2600 console and OEM products for Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Mattel, CBS and Amiga. Jerry has been a ham radio operator for more than 50 years (WA6LVN) and was involved with the mentor program at Stanford University.

His earliest foray into consumer electronics began early on, but it wasn’t until he joined Fairchild in 1970 that he really made his mark on the tech industry. During that time, he became the only black member of the infamous Homebrew Computer Club that counted Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack as members.

Fairchild Channel F – 1st Cartridge-based Video Game

While Jerry worked for Fairchild, he developed the first home console that used cartridges. Jerry designed the game system (Fairchild Channel F), the cartridge, and its controller. See the previous link for a list of games.

FairChild Channel F Game System designed by Jerry Lawson

The ‘Channel F’ came out just one year before Atari’s cartridge-based console, the VCS, opening the floodgates of modern gaming. He was honored at this year’s GDC for his monumental contribution to modern gaming.

Jerry Lawson also designed and produced the Demolition Derby arcade game, while head of Videosoft game developer.

Although he was a video game pioneer, it seems that Lawson lost some respect for the genre in recent years.

Lawson had apparently developed diabetes in the past few years and was confined to a wheelchair. His family friend David Erhart said,

“He continued building devices to control telescopes, lasers, tools, etc. up until the day he went to the hospital. His workbench had more tools than most people would even know what to do with. He taught me quite a bit and I’ll miss him sorely.”

Black in Gaming honors Jerry Lawson a month before his death during the International Game Developers Conference in March 2011.

Source: http://www.blackscholarsindex.com/2011/05/gerald-jerry-lawson-inventor-of-the-cartridge-based-video-game/

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