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ICHEG at The Strong Acquires Papers of African American Games Pioneer Jerry Lawson


Jerry LawsonGerald A. “Jerry” Lawson, who passed away in 2011, has been called “the father of the video game cartridge.”

He was one of the first African American engineers in the American electronics industry, and his family has now donated a collection of his professional papers and materials to The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) in Rochester, New York.

I think this is an important body of work from the early history of our industry, and it's great that now it will be preserved in such a large and well-funded facility.

I've also donated my archives to The Strong, and I have the privilege of advising them on their collections, so I've had a chance to see the entire museum complex. In addition to public display areas, a large library, classrooms and extensive climate-controlled storage facilities, there are also special labs for restoration of damaged items and ephemera and for the repair of coin-op game machines

They also have areas for the storage of vintage consoles to ensure functioning units are maintained and that their games remain playable, and for the video preservation of gameplay so that future generations have ready access to study the games that come from older platforms.

Lawson came to Silicon Valley in the 1970s to work for Fairchild Semiconductor, where he worked on the early coin-op game Demolition Derby. Fairchild saw the quality of his work and put Lawson in charge of the video game division.

His most famous pioneering work was on the Fairchild Channel F video game system, which was the first console machine to offer interchangeable cartridges. He teamed with engineers Nick Talesfore and Ron Smith to invent that carridge system, the principles of which were later copied by most manufacturers, including Atari, Mattel, Nintendo and Sega.  Prior to this invention each home console featured only a few variations on one basic game, such as Pong.

Here's are the comments from the Lawson family: “It is truly an honor to have Gerald Lawson’s work preserved and exhibited at The Strong. We, as a family, think that it is important to preserve, promote and share his legacy with the world, and believe that he would be pleased to know that his work will be accessible for future generations of scholars and students to study. It is our hope that his story serves as an inspiration to people—especially children—to make their wildest dreams a reality.”

Lawson was an early member of the Homebrew Computer Club, where his colleagues included Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. In the early 1980s Lawson left Fairchild to found Video Soft, Inc., an engineering design company.

The items donated to the museum by the family cover a great variety of historoically important areas:

  • Three generations of Fairchild Channel F prototype Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs);
  • A Fairchild Channel F (1976) and Channel F System II (1979)
  • Many games, including Channel F and Video Soft prototype cartridges,
  • A game originally produced for the first interactive video game television show TV Powww!, which we also supported when I was at Mattel
  • A copy of the rare Video Soft Color Bar Generator utility cartridge for the Atari VCS
  • Documentation on the Channel F and Video Soft
  • A blueprint of the Channel F console case;
  • Function specifications for several Channel F and Video Soft games
  • An original Video Soft business plan
  • Proposals and documentation for unreleased projects
  • And an item that feels special to me since I was not allowed to keep my Intellivision security badge: Lawson's original Fairchild employee badge.


Photo Credit: Creative Commons