DID YOU KNOW?
Jerry Lawson was born in Queens, New York in December 1940 to a mom that pushed education and a father with a passion for science. His grandfather was educated as a physicist, but was unable to secure employment in that field. These influences led Jerry towards an interest in engineering. He grew up designing, fixing, and building electronics and even created his own amateur radio station at the age of 13.
He went to college, studying at Queens College and City College of New York (CCNY), but did not earn a degree. He eventually made his way to California and by 1970 was working as an applications engineering consultant for Fairchild Semiconductor in San Francisco. With engineering skills that were largely self-taught, he was promoted to Chief Hardware Engineer and Director of Engineering and Marketing for Fairchild's video game division by mid-1970's. It was in this role that he led the development of the Fairchild Channel F video game console.
Notable innovative design features of the Fairchild Channel F included interchangeable game cartridges, an eight-way digital joystick, and the introduction of the "pause" button. Although the Fairchild Channel F was not commercially successful, they licensed their technology and cartridges were popularized with the release of the Atari 2600 in 1977.
Jerry left Fairchild in 1980 and founded Videosoft, the first black-owned video game development company, which unfortunately only lasted five years. He ended his career as a consultant and worked on his own inventions.
With all of his accomplishments, his legacy includes paying it forward to the next generation of black engineers through mentorship. Even in his older age and in poor health, Jerry mentored engineering students at Stanford University. He passed away in April 2011 at the age of 70.
So, the next time you sit down in front of your favorite video game console, pop in a disk or download a game, remember you have Jerry Lawson to thank.
Written By: Chatney Hines