In 2011, the video game industry pulled in $17.01 billion for physical software, making its way into many, many households globally in the process [source: Brightman]. How did the gaming juggernaut get its start? The answer is surprisingly complicated. In the late 1940s, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle R. Mann patented the descriptively named Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device, an electronic device incorporating screen overlays that users would hold while playing a few basic games.
In 1958, William Higinbotham created another notable precursor to modern video games while working at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. The simple diversion, called Tennis for Two, was displayed on an oscilloscope. Imagine one of those screens you might see hooked up next to a patient's bedside with a very basic video game on it, and you've got it.
Although these and other electronic games captured audiences and imaginations across the country, the first true video game -- one that transformed electronic signals into pictures on a screen by way of something called a raster pattern -- wouldn't come along until 1967. That's when an engineer named Ralph H. Baer created the first prototype of what would later become the Magnavox Odyssey, a groundbreaking video game console that, along with countless imitators, would spark the video game craze of the '70s [source: The Lemelson Center].
Today, Baer is widely referred to as the "Father of Video Games," quite a distinction for someone who began his career as a radio technician in the early '40s. After serving as a small arms expert throughout World War II, Baer enrolled in the American Television Institute of Technology, graduating with a degree in television engineering. In 1951, Baer found himself tasked with designing the "world's best television" for a television company named Loral. Wanting to make the television stand out against the competition, Baer proposed building an electronic game into the television set, but the concept proved too outlandish for his manager to approve.
Fortunately for the legions of gamers out there, the story doesn't stop there.