ICHEG Receives Gerald ("Jerry") Lawson Donation
December 2, 2013
For Immediate Release
The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games Receives Donation Chronicling the Career of Video Game Industry Trail Blazer Gerald (“Jerry”) Lawson
ROCHESTER, New York—The family of Gerald A. (“Jerry”) Lawson (1940–2011), called the “father of the video game cartridge” and one of the first African American engineers in the world of electronics, has donated to The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) in Rochester, New York, a collection of materials chronicling Lawson’s innovative contributions to the video game industry.
Lawson changed the way the world played video games. His pioneering work is best illustrated by the Fairchild Channel F video game system, the first home console with removable game cartridges. Lawson, along with Fairchild engineers Nick Talesfore and Ron Smith, made it possible for consumers to play a wide variety of video games at home on a single console. The interchangeable cartridge system likewise transformed the home console industry, ultimately generating millions of dollars in profits for companies such as Atari and Nintendo—who produced best-selling cartridge-based systems until Nintendo’s last one, the N64, in 1996—paving the way for today’s multigame disc-based systems.
According to a statement 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 moved from Queens, New York, to California’s Silicon Valley in the 1970s to work for Fairchild Semiconductor. There he created one of the earliest examples of a microprocessor coin-operated game—Demolition Derby. It was after this invention that Fairchild put Lawson in charge of the video game division.
Lawson was among the early members of the Homebrew Computer Club, which included such computer industry luminaries as Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. In the early 1980s, Lawson left Fairchild and founded Video Soft, Inc., an engineering design company and game developer best known for its novel Atari 2600 Color Bar Generator (1984) utility cartridge.
The Gerald A. (“Jerry”) Lawson Collection is comprised of iconic artifacts, prototypes, and documents that The Strong has identified as among the most important to preserve. The materials play a critical role in chronicling video game industry history as they record how Lawson and his team developed the trailblazing console technology that was quickly overshadowed by the Atari 2600. Among the donated items are three generations of Fairchild Channel F prototype Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs); a Fairchild Channel F (1976) and Channel F System II (1979); dozens of games including Channel F and Video Soft prototype cartridges, a game originally produced for the first video game-themed television show TV Powww!, and a copy of the rare Video Soft Color Bar Generator utility cartridge; documentation on the Channel F and Video Soft including a blue print 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 Lawson's original Fairchild employee badge.
Says Jeremy Saucier, assistant director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at The Strong, “The Gerald A. (“Jerry”) Lawson Collection has great potential for research and exhibition as it documents a largely undeveloped history and chronicles the achievements of one of the founding figures of the video game industry. Much like the drafts of a great novel, the three generations of Channel F Printed Circuit Boards, in particular, illustrate how Lawson and his team developed the trailblazing console.”