Video game pioneer Ralph Baer honored with Manchester statue

  • The statue of Ralph Baer is admired by Jim, one of Baer's sons, and two of Baer's grandchildren during Friday's unveiling in Arms Park in Manchester. David Brooks—Monitor Staff

  • Before being unveiled, the statue of Ralph Baer was hidden inside this box, painted to look like an old-fashioned TV set being used to play Tennis, the first home video game his team developed. David Brooks—Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/10/2019 3:40:12 PM
Modified: 5/10/2019 3:40:00 PM

One of New Hampshire’s most unusual personalities – a man who fled Nazi Germany then helped create the entire video game industry and now has a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian – received a most unusual monument Friday: A statue of him sitting on a riverside park bench in Manchester, playing a video game.

The statue of Ralph Baer, who led a team that developed the first home video game while he was working in Nashua at the company that is now BAE Systems, is the culmination of efforts by family members and local fans to honor Baer in the city where he lived for six decades.

“Dad only passed four years ago. Usually, these things take decades,” said Mark Baer, one of Ralph Baer’s sons and a driving force for the recognition.

The placing of the statue, in what is now known as Baer Square in downtown Manchester, was also helped by the Queen City’s desire to be known as a technology hub. The fact that BAE Systems is expanding into Manchester, bringing as many as 800 jobs, didn’t hurt; the company is one of the major contributors to the project.

About a dozen family members, including Baer’s children and many grandchildren, were on hand for Friday’s unveiling of the statue, as were many local business and government officials. The statue, which was inspired by a statue of former Celtics coach Red Auerbach sitting on a bench in Boston, was hidden until the unveiling inside a huge box painted to look like an old-fashion console television that had Baer’s version of electronic tennis being played on the screen.

Ralph Baer’s parents, who were Jewish, fled Nazi Germany with him when he was a child. He served as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army and after World War II become an engineer with interest in television systems. In 1961, sitting at a bus stop, he made the first notes about developing two-way interaction with TV sets.

He worked in Nashua at Sanders Associates, the company that is now part of BAE Systems, for 30 years. During that time, he led a small team that in 1968 developed what has come to be known as the “Brown Box” system that could move dots around on a television screen. As Baer told it, the work was done out of view of senior management who didn’t see why a defense contractor was fiddling around with TV sets.

Eventually the project became Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game, and made Sanders Associates a lot of money.

Baer was a prolific inventor on his own, mostly of electronic games and toys. He may be best known for Simon, an electronic pattern-matching game that was a huge hit in the 1980s.

Baer’s basement workshop from his home on Mayflower Drive is now in the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. David Allison, a senior scholar with the Museum of American History, said Friday that Baer’s history as an immigrant – somebody who “chose to be an American” – was important to the museum.

“He wasn’t just a successful inventor. He’s a successful example of being a great American – that’s why he’s in the Smithsonian,” said Allison.

Mark Baer put it this way: “You don’t have to come from a great background. ... You can still accomplish things. That’s what this is all about.”

Also unveiled Friday was The Ralph H. and Dena W. Baer Scholarship Fund to benefit students from Manchester Central High School who are pursuing studies in technology-related fields. Gifts can be made online to the New Hampshire Charitable Fund to support this scholarship at give.nhcf.org/BaerScholarship.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.


Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy