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Obituary: Fairchild Channel F Creator Jerry Lawson

Obituary: Fairchild Channel F Creator Jerry Lawson

April 11, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

Jerry Lawson, the creator of the first cartridge-based video game console, the Fairchild Channel F, passed away Saturday of unknown causes, according to a post on the Vintage Computing & Gaming blog. He was 70.

Born in Queens, New York, Lawson became one of the few African American engineers in the Silicon Valley area at that time, moving there in 1968 to work at PRD Electronics. Lawson was the only African American member of Silicon Valley's Homebrew Computer Club, which also included Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

In 1970 Lawson took a position with Fairchild, eventually heading up a 30 person team responsible for the company's secretive entrance into the nascent home video game market.

Released in 1976 for $169.95, the Channel F was the first home console to use a series of interchangeable ROM cartridges to store different games, a setup that provided new challenges.

"There was a mechanism that allowed you to put the cartridges in without destroying the semiconductors," Lawson recalled in an interview with VC&G, adding that there was a fear static charges might cause explosive destruction of the system's semiconductors.

"I mean, think about it: nobody had the capability of plugging in memory devices in mass quantity like in a consumer product. Nobody."

In 1980 Lawson went on to found VideoSoft, a contract developer which worked on a number of games. Six unreleased VideoSoft titles intended for the Atari 2600 were recently unearthed and are available for sale from Digital Press.

The IGDA's Minority Internet SIG honored Lawson's contributions to the industry during a gathering at last month's Game Developers Conference.

"He's absolutely a pioneer," Pong designer Al Alcorn said of Lawson in a San Jose Mercury News profile. "When you do something for the first time, there is nothing to copy."

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