Google Doodle celebrates electronic engineer Gerald “Jerry” Lawson
Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, an American electronic engineer and designer of Fairchild Channel F, the first home video game system with interchangeable games, was honored with a Google Doodle today, Dec. 1, on what would have been his 82nd birthday.
He was a pioneer in his field and led the team that invented the commercial, interchangeable video game cartridge. He was one of the first Black engineers in the industry and was known as the “father of the video game cartridge”.
Jerry Lawson is honored for his innovative work
Google honored Lawson with an interactive Google Doodle that takes players on a journey through video games that evoke the games from the 1970s, bringing back nostalgia for those who played decades ago, and providing a bit of history for those who are less familiar with them. The games in the doodle were designed by three American artists and game designers named Davionne Gooden, Lauren Brown, and Momo Pixel.
The three games in the Doodle take users on a journey through Lawson’s life and career, while also providing a glimpse into early game graphics. It allows the players to create their own video game within the Google Doodle, while learning about Lawson’s great impact on the video game industry.
Lawson was born in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 1, 1940. His love for electronic devices started at a very young age. He often played with electronics as a young boy, fixing television sets and other electronic devices. He also built his own radio station from parts he purchased from local electronic stores. His passion for engineering was encouraged by both his parents and early on by his first-grade teacher.
Lawson moved to California and joined Fairchild Semiconductor International in 1970 as an engineering consultant. He invented a coin-operated arcade game called Demolition Derby in his garage while he was at Fairchild.
It was one of the first games to be powered by a microprocessor, a computing processor where data is included on a chip so that the computer, or in this case video game, can operate. It is also known as the central processing unit (CPU).
In the mid-1970s, Lawson was made the chief hardware engineer and director of engineering and marketing for the video game division at the company.
Video game developers consult with Lawson
In 1976, he led the development of the Fairchild Channel F console, an innovative system that let users swap game cartridges and included an 8-way digital joystick. The Fairchild Channel F console also featured a pause button, which was considered a first for a video game console.
Lawson left the company Fairchild in 1980 to create his own business called Videosoft, one of the earliest Black-owned video game development companies. Videosoft created software used in Atari 2600, a popular game console at the time.
Atari utilized the interchangeable cartridge system Lawson originally helped to create. Although Videosoft closed five years later, Lawson had already established himself as a video game industry pioneer. He continued consultations with numerous engineering and video game developers throughout his life.
Lawson honored at the IGDA
In 2011, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) recognized Lawson for the work he had done within the electronic engineering and video game industry. He died a month later of complications from diabetes. Google Doodle was created in collaboration with his family and guest artists to honor his legacy.
Throughout his life, he was inspired by George Washington Carver, a Black scientist and inventor. His family said “that inspiration provided the spark that ignited his desire to pursue a career in electronics. He loved what he did and did what he loved." Lawson changed the video game industry with his innovative ideas and inventions. "Considering the obvious challenges for African-Americans at the time, his professional achievements were quite remarkable,” his family said in a statement. His work lives on through his inventions and many achievements.
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