How a black engineer forever changed video game console

Jerry Lawson, who oversaw the creation of Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.


Atari. Magnavox. Intellivision. 

Each evokes memories of the golden age of video games, which brought the first wave of consoles you could connect to your home television.

But there’s an oft-forgotten person from that era whose contributions to the industry still resonate today: a black engineer named Jerry Lawson.

Lawson oversaw the creation of the Channel F, the first video game console with interchangeable game cartridges – something the first Atari and Magnavox Odyssey systems did not use.

Those initial consoles had a selection of games hardwired into the console itself.  But Lawson, an engineer and designer at Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp., led a team at the Silicon Valley semiconductor maker charged with creating a game system using Fairchild’s F8 microprocessor and storing games on cartridges.

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Jerry Lawson, who oversaw the creation of Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.'s Channel F home video game system, the first to use interchangeable game cartridges; shown here in a scanned photo from Black Enterprise magazine.

“A lot of people in the industry swore that a microprocessor couldn’t be used in video games and I knew better,” Lawson said during a speech at the 2005 Classic Gaming Expo in San Francisco posted on YouTube

The Fairchild Video Entertainment System, later named the Channel F (for “Fun”), which began selling in 1976, had games such as hockey, tennis, blackjack and a maze game that foreshadowed Pac-Man.


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