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Jerry Lawson, inventor of the first cartridge-based console, passes away at age 70

Gerald A. "Jerry" Lawson, the American electronics engineer credited with creating the world's first cartridge-based videogame system, has passed away at the age of 70. You'd be forgiven for not recognizing the name, but if you've ever owned a home console, then you owe at least a few minutes of your time to honor the man who arguably started it all.

A forty year veteran of the electronics field, Lawson was a key player in the development of the Fairchild Channel F system in 1976; the first gaming system to hit the market that used interchangeable cartridges in lieu of built-in videogames. Originally known as the Fairchild Video Entertainment System, the unit kick-started an industry which was later dominated by the Atari VCS (aka Atari 2600) in 1977 and countless other systems in the decades that followed.

In an extensive 2009 interview with Vintage Computing and Gaming, Lawson spoke about his early days with Fairchild Semiconductor's game division, and the motivation behind developing the Fairchild Channel F system, recalling, “What was paramount to our system was to have cartridges...We were afraid — we didn't have statistics on multiple insertion and what it would do, and how we would do it, because it wasn't done. I mean, think about it: nobody had the capability of plugging in memory devices in mass quantity like in a consumer product. Nobody.”

Speaking to the San Jose Mercury News just last month, he noted, “The whole reason I did games was because people said, ‘You can’t do it' ...I’m one of the guys, if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll turn around and do it.”

Only 26 games were ever made for the Fairchild Channel F system, but Lawson's contributions to gaming did not end with the groundbreaking system. In the 1980s, he started his own videogame development company, Videosoft, and went on to create games for the Atari 2600.

In the years following his work with Atari, Lawson remained active in the electronics field, serving in Stanford University's mentor program, acting as a consultant to the industry, and telling his story as a guest of honor at various videogame events. Last month, the International Game Developers Association honored Lawson for his considerable contributions to gaming during  the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Lawson passed away last Saturday following complications from a heart attack. He leaves behind a wife, two children and millions of gamers who continue to play in the industry he helped build.

[Source: WiredVC&G]

April 12, 2011

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43 comments

  • Nintygameplayerperson - April 19, 2011 12:47 a.m.

    He will be missed. Shame not many gamers knew about him.
  • AceDynamo - April 18, 2011 10:13 a.m.

    Well at least GR gave him a credit. So what If It took me all of 1minute to read this article. He was black. And if if wasnt for us whites, we wouldn't be able to patent his idea and take credit for gaming. We allowed Jerry to live In our country to learn something. It was our system that have Jerry the Ideas in the 1st place. So technically, us white ppl made the video game industry as big as it is! We used our money to make his dreams a reality! What more do blacks want?? You guys ask for way too much as it is don't cha think? Jerry was a good man and those who knew more about him, will miss him I'm sure. As for me, I'm just now hearing about the guy very briefly and now I'm done. Where would you blacks be without is white ppl to help ur ideas a reality?? Most likely not happen.
  • AceDynamo - April 17, 2011 10:03 p.m.

    Man that's so FUCKED up! I never knew a black dude created the 1st cartridge based home console. I always thought it was another race who made gaming consoles! But hey...what do you expect...he was black and blacks don't get credit for much of nothing when it comes to inventing and creating. I was taught that all blacks were dumb sub human apes and were not humans, but primitives. Rest in peace Jerry Lawson. Because of you, gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry! I wonder how much of your money did you get to enjoy? Sad sad story. I feel sorry for black ppl...you guys got it really really bad. I'm just in total shock he was a black man. Wow...that's all I can say is...Wow. Thanks Jerry, really thanks alot man. Fuck... :(
  • kkinight - April 14, 2011 12:45 p.m.

    Even though he have passed away,but he will be remember by every gamers.
  • 435 - April 14, 2011 4:49 a.m.

    Thank you, sir. The world owes you a debt.
  • Crimmy - April 14, 2011 12:26 a.m.

    Wow. This is truly sad. RIP Jerry.
  • bobbybroccoli - April 13, 2011 10:40 p.m.

    Yep, everyone says goodbye except for db1331. Same old db1331.
  • Ashermeister - April 13, 2011 7:36 p.m.

    The man, the myth, the legend! R.I.P Mr Lawson.
  • bilstar - April 13, 2011 5:36 p.m.

    Rest in peace sir.
  • Evilsafetyboy - April 13, 2011 4:53 p.m.

    Thank you for most of my childhood. Godspeed!
  • Sharkbot - April 13, 2011 3:42 p.m.

    May you R.I.P. Jerry, games wouldn't be where they are at without you.
  • AntistasMetroid - April 13, 2011 3 p.m.

    Didn't know of him until reading this short article. Rest in peace to Mr. Lawson and thank you for your contributions to the medium that connects us all...
  • BurntToShreds - April 13, 2011 2:57 p.m.

    Rest your soul, Lawson. You have earned it.
  • mothbanquet - April 13, 2011 2:54 p.m.

    RIP Mr Lawson, you brought joy to us all, the tragic thing being many of us didn't realise it until now.
  • gamerkx - April 13, 2011 2:33 p.m.

    He will be missed....
  • db1331 - April 13, 2011 2:05 p.m.

    Are we sure he's really dead? Did anyone try blowing in him?
  • ChickenFillet5140 - April 13, 2011 1:28 p.m.

    RIP Mr. Lawson.
  • Sniped50 - April 13, 2011 12:23 p.m.

    Goodbye, Mr Lawson. You will be remembered.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - April 13, 2011 11:03 a.m.

    R.I.P.
  • Shenlong4517 - April 13, 2011 5:41 a.m.

    Pity I haven't heard of him until now. Rest in peace.

Showing 1-20 of 43 comments

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