Today marks 82 years since the birth of Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, the American engineer known for leading the team that developed the first video game console with interchangeable game cartridges, and one of the few black engineers employed in Silicon Valley companies in the 1970s. For his contributions to the industry, Lawson was named by the magazine in 1982 Black Enterprise “the father of the video game cartridge”: today Google celebrates the anniversary through an interactive doodle, the image that replaces the classic logo on the homepage, which leads to various games developed by three game designers, Davionne Gooden, Lauren Brown and Momo Pixel . In addition to playing, you can also modify the game layouts using the doodle.
Lawson was born in Brooklyn (New York) on December 1, 1940 and began to be passionate about electronics as a young man. After graduating from high school, he moved to Palo Alto, California, where the first technology companies of Silicon Valley were born: there he became director of the engineering and marketing department of Fairchild Semiconductor, where in 1976 he followed the development of the Fairchild Channel F systemthe first console that had swappable game cartridges, a new type of joystick and, for the first time in a console, the button to pause the game.
Channel F – whose F stood for “fun”, i.e. entertainment – did not have a great commercial success, but its logic inspired, among others, the consoles of the well-known video game company Atari and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
In 1980 Lawson left Fairchild to start his own company, VideoSoft, one of the first owned by an African American person: there he developed software for the Atari 2600, which popularized its cartridge system. Although VideoSoft was dissolved just five years later, Lawson continued to work as a consultant, eventually being recognized as one of the video game industry’s pioneers. He died in 2011 at the age of 70 from complications related to diabetes, a disease he had developed years earlier.
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