A Brief History of Game Consoles, as Seen in Old TV Ads

1975: Atari PONG

Though Atari PONG comes first on our list (because I could find some ads for it), it certainly wasn't the first console available. That honour goes to the original Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972--a product that the first Atari has a direct link to.

Ralph Baer, who has come to be known as father of video game consoles, headed the team that conceived and developed the Odyssey. In 1966, while working at Sanders Associates, Baer developed the revolutionary concept of a game box that would work with any TV set. By 1968, his team had created a prototype that came be known as the "Brown Box," complete with ball-and-paddle-style games, and even the first light-gun, styled after a rifle. In 1970, Magnavox contracted to make a commercial prototype, and in 1972 it unveiled the original US$100 Odyssey console and 12 games.

The Birth of Atari

Enter a young electrical engineer named Nolan Bushnell, who was partly responsible for the first coin-operated arcade machine: Computer Space. Bushnell attended a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey and was intrigued by the simplicity of its tennis game. In 1972, he co-founded a company called Atari and set about improving on Magnavox's tennis game. The result: The coin-operated, Atari-branded PONG arcade machine, which went on to become a smash hit.

Magnavox soon sued Atari, claiming infringement of Ralph Baer's patents; eventually Atari wound up licensing the concept. After PONG's success at the arcades, a home-console version was unveiled at the 1975 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), complete with sound and on-screen scoring.

Over the 1975 Christmas buying season, customers waited for hours to pay US$100 for a Sears Tele-Games PONG machine. Following this success, Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976 for an estimated US$30 million. This gave Atari the infusion of cash it needed to release its own PONG C-100 console and become a household name.

Throughout the 1970s, a plethora of Pong-playing clones (in a multitude of variations, shapes, and sizes) appeared on store shelves around the world.

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Danny Allen

PC World (US online)
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