The First Video Game Might Have Been Invented In 1947

The First Video Game Might Have Been Invented In 1947

When you ask most people what the first video game is, chances are they’ll mention Pong. Some people might mention Spacewar. And others might even go as far as to mention the Brown Box from the late 1960’s, a prototype of a multi-program, multiplayer video game system.

But the first patent for a video game system, with the earliest inkling of a game, was filed decades earlier — in 1947.

Popular Mechanics has written about the little-known history of the patent for the cathode-ray tube amusement device, courtesy of Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr and Estle Ray Mann.

Goldsmith isn't typically heralded as the inventor of video games -- that honour is bestowed to Ralph Baer, maker of the Brown Box and Pong. But Goldsmith's patent in 1947 could be considered the progeny of the industry.

"This invention relates to a device with which a game can be played," the patent reads. "The game is of such a character that it requires care and skill in playing it or operating the device with which the game is played. Skill can be increased with practice and the exercise of care contributes to success."

The actual game involves the player moving knobs to move a beam to destroy a series of targets ("such as pictures of airplanes") drawn by the CRT screen. "The movement of the beam may be periodic and its repetition rate may be varied," the patent continues.

According to Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers historian Alex Magoun, however, no prototype of the invention would have been made and at any rate, it was only a demo. Allen B. DuMont had hired Goldsmith as his head of research, which granted Goldsmith the time and space to conceptualise his idea. But Magoun said DuMont "was constantly strapped for funds" and in 1960 the businessman sold the remaining shares in his company.

It's a fascinating story and well worth a read if you've got some spare time over lunch or the ride home. And it's also worth going over the details of the patent in a week where mass-market virtual reality headsets just landed in the hands of consumers, if only for a reminder of how far things have come.

[Popular Mechanics]


  • What about tennis for two which was made on an oscilloscope? I think this one predates it, as tennis for two was made in the 1950’s if I remember correctly.
    It was made for a display at a university fair and is often over looked when it comes to the first video games created
    Found it’s wikipedia entry

  • This reminds me, weren’t moving pictures roundly criticised and bah-humbugged at its inception? It got howled down by the theatre types but was able to grow and grow. It was an art-form before a form of industry/way to make money. VR/games as a whole seem to have this arse about.

    The first/earliest recovered piece of film/feature length cinema was an Australian (silent) production of Ned Kelly I believe. Don’t quote me.

    VR doesn’t seem to have the same romanticism, for every ‘this is transcendent’ remark we see a dozen cynical ones. That’s the information age we live in though!

    • Very different culture around VR compared to introducing video games or moving pictures in general. VR already has an established market that developers are selling the equipment to. They’re making millions in pre-orders before anyone even gets their hands on a device.

      On the whole VR seems to be generally accepted as being the next step forwards and as such has been relatively well received. The biggest criticisms I’ve seen against it is the computing power required. At the moment it’s just going to early adopters but give it 10 years and they’ll be commonplace.

      Probably better off comparing VR to the introduction of mobile phones rather than motion pictures. Mobiles were a luxury item for the rich at the start…now look at the damn things.

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