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A daily look back at the toys, games, and objects that captured our attention as children and continue to fascinate us today.

Jerry Lawson: Changing How We Play Video Games

Jerry Lawson rose above financial hardship and discrimination to become the first African-American video game engineer and developer.

Vital Stats

Born Gerald Anderson Lawson in Brooklyn, New York in December 1940

Died April 2011 in Santa Clara, California

Early Interests

Lawson gravitated towards technology and science in high school, earning money by repairing television sets and building walkie-talkies. He became a licenced ham radio operator and proceeded to create his own station.

Career Highlights

Despite not finishing college, he was hired by Fairchild Semiconductor in San Francisco, working in the sales department as an Applications Engineering Consultant in 1970.

He joined the Homebrew Computer Club, where he met Atari’s Nolan Bushnell. Inspired by Bushnell’s work at Atari, Lawson created the Demolition Derby coin-operated arcade game in his spare time.

He was promoted to Chief Hardware Engineer at Fairchild in the mid-1970s and served as director of engineering and marketing within the company’s video game department. He was the first African-American engineer and game designer to work in the video-game industry. In 1976, Lawson led the development of the Fairchild Channel F, the first ROM-based cartridge video game console. It used interchangeable game cartridges.

Going Solo

Lawson struck out on his own in 1980, starting Videosoft, a video game development company. His work included developing software for Atari and the development of the colour bar generator—software designed to calibrate a television’s colour picture.

Videosoft closed five years after it opened, and Lawson continued his work as a consultant.

Delivering the Goods

Lawson was recognized by the International Game Developers Association in 2011 as an industry pioneer for his work developing the video game cartridge.

He was also honoured at the 21st annual Independent Game Festival in 2019 with the ID@Xbox Gaming Heroes award.