Ralph H. Baer was a German-born ordnance specialist, inventor, and engineer. He was a pioneer of early videogame technology. The papers include autobiographical materials; firearms notes, manuscripts, and photographs; and videogame and television engineering notes, diagrams, schematics, and video documentation.
Scope and Contents:
The Ralph Baer Papers include autobiographical materials and an extended oral history interview. The Papers also include materials about military small arms created by Baer during his World War II service. The largest portion of the collection documents Baer's work on video games.
The collection is arranged into 12 series.
Series 1: Autobiographical Documents, 1962-2006
Subseries 1.1: Manuscript, book and other documents, 1962-2006
Subseries 1.2: Other Media: CDs, VHS videos, periodical, 1991, 2000-2003
Series 2: WW II Small Arms Documents, 1943-1953
Subseries 2.1: Correspondence, 1950-1953
Subseries 2.2: Writings and notes, 1943-1948
Subseries 2.3: Drawings and schematics, undated
Subseries 2.4: Manuals and encyclopedias, 1943
Subseries 2.5: Photographs, 1945
Series 3: Hans Otto Mauksch Materials, 1944-1964
Subseries 3.1: Personal background information, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1964
Subseries 3.2: Instructional materials, 1944-1946, undated
Subseries 3.3: Ft. Riley, Kansas, 1946, 1953
Series 4: TV Game Documents, 1966-1972
Subseries 4.1: Working notes, diagrams and schematics, 1966-1971
Subseries 4.2: Administrative documents, 1966-1972
Subseries 4.3: Notebooks, 1966-1968
Subseries 4.4: TV game development documentation, 1966-1968
Series 5: Sanders Associates, Transitron, and Van Norman Industries, 1952-2003
Series 6: Product Development Documents, 1974-2015
Series 7: Product Guides and Technical Support, 1943-2011
Series 8: Legal and Patent Documents, 1966-2014
Series 9: Writings and Notes, 1946-1999
Series 10: Miscellaneous, 1961-2012
Series 11: Correspondence, 1983-2014
Series 12: Publicity and Awards, 1979-2015
Biographical / Historical:
Ralph H. Baer (1922-2014) was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1938. A graduate of the National Radio Institute (1940), Baer worked as a radio technician in the New York City area, servicing all types of home and auto radios. During World War II, Baer served in the United States Army, one year stateside, and two years in Europe. He was assigned to Military Intelligence and became an expert on military small arms. Baer returned to the United States with eighteen tons of foreign small arms for use in exhibits at Aberdeen, Maryland; Springfield, Massachusetts Armory; and Ft. Riley, Kansas.
After the war, Baer attended the American Television Institute of Technology in Chicago, graduating with a BS in television engineering. In 1949, Baer joined a small electro medical equipment firm, Wappler, Inc., as their chief engineer. He designed and built surgical cutting machines, epilators, and low frequency pulse generating muscle-toning equipment. In 1951, Baer moved to Loral Electronics of Bronx, New York as a senior engineer, designing power line carrier signaling equipment for IBM. During 1952-1956, Baer worked at Transitron, Inc., in New York City as a chief engineer and later as vice president. In 1956, Baer joined Sanders Associates in Nashua, New Hampshire building airborne radar components. He became manager of the Electronic Design Department at Sanders and eventually Division Manager and Chief Engineer for Equipment Design. Baer retired in 1987.
At Sanders in 1966, Baer began an independent project experimenting with ways for consumers to interact with standard home television sets. Development of interactive TV Game (TVG) ideas became a company-supported project continued by Baer and assisted by William H. Harrison and William T. Rusch (download the TV Game chronology prepared by Ralph Baer in 2006). By mid-1967, ping pong videogames were played inside Sanders, patent disclosures were applied for, and hardware was designed. Baer and his associates called the devices they were developing "boxes" and numbered the various versions one through seven. In 1971, Magnavox became Sanders Associates's first videogame licensee. Between 1972 and 1975, Magnavox produced and sold over 700,000 units of Odyssey, a set of games played on its television receivers. Atari became a licensee in 1976 after the first of many lawsuits won by Sanders in pursuit of patent infringements.
During his tenure at Sanders and thereafter, Baer was a prolific inventor. His creations included many electronic toys and games and other consumer electronic products. Among the better known products based on Baer's work are Milton Bradley's Simon, Galoob's Smarty Bear Video, and Kenner's Laser Command. In 2004 President George W. Bush awarded Baer the National Medal of Technology.
Baer married Dena Whinston in 1952 and they had three children, James, Mark, and Nancy. Ralph Baer died on December 6, 2014, at the age of 92.
Materials at the Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Ralph H. Baer Innovative Lives Presentation, August 15, 2009 (AC1179)
The presentation documents a moderated conversation about Baer's life and work. Baer reenacts, with his partner William Harrison, the first time he played "Odyssey," the first home video game for the consumer market, which he invented, and answers questions from the audience. Materials include original video (born digital), master videos, and reference videos.
Materials at Other Organizations
Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong
Ralph H. Baer Papers, 1968-2010 inclusive; 1975-1998 bulk
The Ralph H. Baer papers are a compilation of correspondence, game designs, drawings, notes, reference materials, photographs, product descriptions, digital videos, schematics, electronic components, and manuals utilized by Ralph H. Baer throughout his lengthy career in the toy and game industry. The bulk of the materials are from 1975 through 1998.
U.S. Ordnance Museum, Fort Lee, Virginia
Materials consist of data on foreign small arms brought back from Europe in 1946 by Ralph H. Baer.
The Division of Medicine and Science holds artifacts related to this collection including early video game prototypes and TV Game products.
TV Game Unit #1 (TVG#1); 1966; vacuum tube spot generator with Heathkit IG-62 Generator (See Accession 2006.0102.01)
Heathkit IG-62; used with TVG #1 (See Accession 2006.0102.02)
TV Game Unit #2 (TVG #2), aka the "Pump Unit," 1967; large aluminum chassis with wooden "pump" handle (See Accession 2006.0102.03)
TV Game Unit #7 (TVG#7), aka "Brown Box," 1967/1968; prototype for Magnavox Odyssey (See Accession 2006.0102.04)
Cardboard program cards for use with Brown Box (See Accession 2006.0102.05)
Lightgun, 1967/1968; game accessory for Brown Box (See Accession 2006.0102.06)
TV Game Unit #8, 1968; "de/dt" (velocity responsive) ballgame chassis for use with Brown Box (See Accession 2006.0102.07)
Magnavox Odyssey (Model ITL200) video game unit, 1972; with all accessories in the original carton (See Accession 2006.0102.08)
Milton-Bradley Company SIMON handheld microprocessor-control game, 1978 (See Accession 2006.0102.09)
Ideal Toy Company MANIAC microprocessor-control game, 1979, in original box with game instructions (See Accession 2006.0102.10)
Golf Game accessory, 1968; golf ball mounted on joystick handle for use with Brown Box (See Accession 2006.0102.11
"Brown Box" programming card, target shooting, 1967 (See Accession 2006.0102.12)
The collection was donated by Ralph H. Baer in 2003.
The collection is open for research use. Gloves must be worn when handling unprotected photographs and negatives.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning intellectual property rights. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions. Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution.