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Gerald "Jerry" Lawson's 82nd Birthday

Gerald "Jerry" Lawson's 82nd Birthday

Did You Know on this day in 1940 the father of videogame cartridge was born?

Gerald "Jerry" Anderson Lawson was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 1, 1940, and he grew up in Queens. He is widely credited as a pioneer in the field of computer games. His blue collar worker parents inspired him to pursue further education. Lawson's mother was a city worker and the PTA president at the virtually all-white school where Lawson went to school. His father was a longshoreman and an avid student of scientific literature.

Lawson had a wide range of scientific interests as a young kid, including chemistry and ham radio. Lawson was able to support himself as a teen by fixing televisions. Lawson studied at Queens College and City University of New York in the 1960s, although he never graduated. In the 1970s, he followed his passion for computers all the way to Silicon Valley, where he joined the Homebrew Computer Club and found himself the sole black member with Ron Jones. Lawson met Apple Computer Inc. co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak via the club. Lawson created the first coin-operated arcade game, Demolition Derby, at this time.

After graduating from college in 1976, Lawson found employment with the computer company Fairchild Semiconductor. Manufacturers had games already embedded in their circuitry at a time when the technology for making home consoles was in its infancy. While working for Fairchild Semiconductor as their head of engineering and marketing in 1976, Lawson collaborated in the creation of the game cartridge system known as The Fairchild Channel F. The Atari 2600, Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation were all made possible by Lawson's invention, which also opened the door to widespread home gaming. Lawson's groundbreaking notion, albeit simplistic by today's standards, laid the groundwork for the multibillion dollar computer gaming industry we know today.

The Fairchild Channel F System


After leaving Fairchild in 1980, Lawson founded Videosoft, which made games for companies like Atari. As gaming consoles' processing capacity grew, Lawson saw a shift away from the simple, cute images of his youth and toward violent, realistic ones. Videosoft only made one cartridge, "Color Bar Generator," which was meant to calibrate television color and alter the vertical and horizontal image hold on television sets, despite hopes of making a killing in the burgeoning computer game business. Lawson and Videosoft never made it big in the industry he pioneered thanks to that one cartridge.

But Gerald Lawson was among the first black engineers to make significant contributions to the fields of electronics and video games. The International Game Developers Association recognized Lawson as a trailblazer in the video game business in March of 2011. Lawson tragically passed away in Mountain View, California, on April 9, 2011 from diabetes-related complications, only one month after accepting the award. He was 70. Catherine and their children Karen and Marc are the only surviving members of Lawson's immediate family.

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