Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, a Black man from Queens, New York, was an engineer and inventor responsible for bringing change to home console games. Lawson designed the Fairchild Channel F, the first home video game system featuring interchangeable cartridge-based games. Without his innovation, the disc-based gaming systems of today would not exist.
Lawson was born December 1, 1940 Although Lawson was nurtured in a learning environment, it was a first-grade teacher that sparked his curiosity in the sciences. In a 2009 interview with Vintage Computing and Gaming, Lawson explained, “I had a picture of George Washington Carver on the wall next to my desk. And she said, ‘This could be you.’ Now, the point I’m getting at is, this kind of influence is what led me to feel, ‘I want to be a scientist. I want to be something.’”
Lawson’s mother, Mannnings, was the PTA president of the mostly white school he attended. Future New York Governor Mario Cuomo attended the same school, which Lawson was only able to go to because his mother used a phony address. Lawson’s father, Blanton, a longshoreman, was an avid reader and encouraged his son’s interests.
Lawson attended both Queens College and the City College of New York, but didn’t receive his degrees. However, he found early work as a computer engineer in New York before heading to the west to work in Silicon Valley. In the early 1970s, he worked as a freelance engineer for the Fairchild company and developed a roving technology unit using a mobile home.
The company was so impressed with Lawson’s designs, they hired him full time. While at Fairchild, Lawson was credited with creating the first coin-operated game machine, Demolition Derby.
Lawson joined a hobbyist group, the Homebrew Computer Club, that included Apple Founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Lawson actually interviewed Wozniak for a job with Fairchild, but didn’t hire him. The Fairchild F Channel F, released November 1976, was bolstered by a microprocessor that could handle the insertion and removal of cartridges without damaging vital components of the machine.
It was the first system to do so. The Channel F allowed for variety, faster graphics and much more. Lawson’s innovation led the way for the success of the Atari 2600 and other gaming systems.
Little Known Black History Fact: Gerald Lawson was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
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