One of the most iconic parts of retro gaming from the 1970s into the early 2000s was the game cartridge itself. This vessel which held the actual video game itself was an invention of the Brooklyn-born Jerry Lawson.
Born December 1, 1940, as Gerald Anderson Lawson, he pursued electronics very early in life starting in first grade. Throughout high school, Lawson made money by repairing televisions and pursued engineering at City College and Queens College. While he wouldn’t graduate from either college, he would begin working for the San Francisco-based Fairchild Semiconductor in 1970.
Career in Gaming
Jerry Lawson worked in the company’s sales division for several years. It was in his garage that he developed the game Demolition Derby. During this time, Lawson was in the same hobbyist group—Homebrew Computer Club—which included Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The company would promote Lawson to Chief Hardware Engineer and put in charge of the video game wing. His role here would change gaming history forever.
To understand his contribution to the industry, one must understand how games were delivered initially. A video game console typically came with games installed already. As a result, buying X console could come with a few games and that was all the games someone had to play.
Jerry Lawson and his team made it so that it used cartridges that could be changed out. The idea was huge since it meant gamers could play more than what was on the console already and the company and developers reeled in more money from game purchases.
While revolutionary in concept, the Channel F didn’t sell as well as expected and the swappable cartridge idea was picked up by the much more successful Atari 2600 months later.
Lawson would leave Fairchild in 1980 and established the game developer Videosoft. Most of its titles were made for the Atari 2600 but the company would go under in 1985. He had other projects following the end of Videosoft before becoming a part of Stanford’s mentor program.
In March 2011, an ailing Jerry Lawson received recognition for his contributions to gaming through the International Game Developers Association. A month later on April 9, the gaming pioneer passed away as a result of diabetes.