Articles

This Jewish refugee and World War II vet made modern video games possible

Ralph H. Baer was a refugee of Nazi Germany and a World War II vet working for a defense contractor when he made the first video game console.


Ralph Baer's "Brown Box" prototype would become the Magnavox Odyssey. Photo: George Hotelling via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Baer was born in Germany in 1922 but his family fled in 1938 through Holland to the U.S. as the Third Reich rose to power. He trained through correspondence courses to repair radios before being drafted into the U.S. Army.

He became a military intelligence soldier and was sent to Europe for two years. During his deployment, he collected a number of German weapons and metal detectors. Once he finished studying the metal detectors the Germans were using, he began turning them into radios for his friends. The 18 tons of small arms he collected were sent back to the states to become museum pieces.

Baer returned to America after the war and went to school on the G.I. Bill. While working as a engineer on guided weapons for a defense contractor, Baer conceived of a box that would plug into a normal T.V. and let people play games together. One of his bosses liked the idea and gave Baer some money and two engineers to work with.

Baer would later invent the SIMON electronic game. Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia/Hempdiddy

They called their device the "Brown Box" until Magnavox bought it and named it the Odyssey. The Odyssey was the first true video game console and allowed two players to play card, board, and other games on their home T.V.

A number of companies would go on to make more marketable and successful consoles. The popular game Pong, along with many others, was ruled to be infringing on Baer's patent after Baer's employer bought it and sued other companies.

Baer continued inventing after the Odyssey. Light guns, like those used in Nintendo's Duck Hunt, are his invention. He created SIMON, the popular '80s electronic game where players match sequences of colored lights. The Navy used a submarine tracking radar that Baer invented, and users of talking doormats and greeting cards have him to thank.

Photo: White House Eric Draper

Baer was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George W. Bush in 2006 and was admitted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010. He died in Dec. 2014.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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The men's department.

Although the Air Force has released very limited guidance on what the new branch will do, how it will roll out, or basically anything at all except that it's called the 'Space Force' and will exist one day, the excitement the idea of a space force brings the military community is palpable.

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Thanks Air Force amn/nco/snco.

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