Jerry Lawson: The Black Engineer Who Revolutionized The Video Game Industry


Gerald "Jerry" Lawson. Photo: Jerry Lawson Estate

The new generation of video game consoles is here, and we have one man to thank for making it possible: Jerry Lawson.

Gerald "Jerry" Lawson is a self-taught electrical engineer who took the gaming world by storm in the 1970s. Back then, the industry was a fledgling compared to the multi-billion dollar beast it is today.

Born on December 1, 1940, in New York City, the Brooklyn native was inspired by the work of scientist George Washington Carver. Dabbling with electronics, he eventually became one of the few engineers working in Silicon Valley at the time.

Lawson worked for a company called Fairchild Camera and Instrument when he pioneered a historic invention: the Fairchild Channel F. If you're wondering what the "F" means, it stands for fun! "Channel Fun," to be more specific.

What made the 1976 console special was that it was the first video game console to utilize cartridges, paving the way for consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Playstation, Xbox, and other popular consoles.

Unfortunately, Lawson never got much credit for his work over the years. He passed away in 2011 at age 70.

It wasn't until the recent decade that more people started becoming more acquainted with his influential work -- a legacy his two children are working to continue.

Anderson and Karen Lawson remembered their father as a "gentle giant" who tinkered with many electronics.

"Dad was a man without limitations as far as what he felt he could do or accomplish," Karen said to her brother in a recent NPR interview. "When he did pass, as sad as it was, you and I both know that he lived a full life." The kids also grew up playing video games with their father, often testing upcoming titles from his job.

"He just got some free labor out of us," Anderson laughed as he reminisced.

Anderson Lawson (left) and Karen Anderson (right). They're both the children of influential engineer Jerry Lawson. Photo: Diana Guyton/StoryCorps

Because Lawson got his children into technology at such a young age, Anderson said it changed "the whole trajectory of my life."

"If everyone was going right, he'd figure out a good reason to go left. That was just him. He created his own destiny," the 49-year-old said.

Anderson is now a computer scientist, working as a product development lead at Generation X Studios in Atlanta, according to his LinkedIn page. He's also worked for IBM, Sports Illustrated, and The Weather Channel over his career.

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