Before Nintendo and Atari: How a black engineer changed the video game industry forever

An amazing Black History story you hardly hear about!

Atari. Magnavox. Intellivision.

Each evokes memories of the golden age of video games, which brought the first wave of consoles you could connect to your home television.

But there’s an oft-forgotten person from that era whose contributions to the industry still resonate today: a black engineer named Jerry Lawson.

Lawson oversaw the creation of the Channel F, the first video game console with interchangeable game cartridges – something the first Atari and Magnavox Odyssey systems did not use.

Jerry Lawson, who oversaw the creation of Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp.'s Channel F home video game system, the first to use interchangeable game cartridges; shown here in a scanned photo from Black Enterprise magazine.

Those initial consoles had a selection of games hardwired into the console itself. (The Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972, also used game “cards,” that were printed circuit boards, but did not contain game data as the subsequent cartridges did.)

But Lawson, an engineer, and designer at Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp., led a team at the Silicon Valley semiconductor maker charged with creating a game system using Fairchild’s F8 microprocessor and storing games on cartridges.

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