Over the weekend, Ralph Baer, inventor of the first video game console, died at the age of 92. Baer was known as "The Father of Video Games," and his start has roots in New York City, where he moved from Germany as a teenager.
"[I was] riding the subway one day to work [in a factory] and someone across the aisle from me is reading a magazine. On the back of the magazine is an ad by National Radio Institute in Washington, D.C., 'Make big money in radio and television servicing.' I guess some bell went off inside of me—that was me. I subscribed immediately, and I paid about a buck and a quarter out of my $12 a week wages to take this course."
He finished the course, quit the factory, started to work his way up in his new industry, and then was drafted in 1943. At the end of that decade he went to the American Television Lab of Technology in Chicago. Eventually, in 1951, he had the idea to play games through a television, which took some time to develop. From the oral history:
"In 1966, I was 44... I’m in New York on some business... I’m sitting on a curb or some steps outside of a bus terminal, waiting for this guy to come in, and the idea of playing games with a television set resurfaced. It had been there once before. When I was with Loral I suggested that we do something with a TV set. But the chief engineer said, 'Forget it. You’re already behind schedule anyway, so stop screwing around with this stuff.' The idea came back. The next morning in my office I sat down and wrote a four-page paper. If you go to the Smithsonian website where all my documents are located, you can find that paper there. It lays out the whole idea of attaching something to a television set and playing interactive games with it, though I don’t think the term interactive was there yet. That wasn’t used yet. A few days later I put a technician on a bench and had him build television Game #1. We didn’t call it that then, but that’s what it was. It was basically a demonstration of how to put a spot on a screen, how to move it laterally, horizontally, and vertically, and how to color it, how to color the background. Once that was done, really nothing happened for several months. It was not until early next year that I conferred with a director of R&D, suggested that maybe he ought to put a few bucks into it to make it a legitimate project."
And yadda yadda yadda... Pong:
Fun fact: Baer also created Simon!
And while we're talking tech history: Did you know the first cell phone call was made on a Manhattan sidewalk?