Jerry Lawson

Jerry Lawson
Computer Scientist

Born in 1940, Jerry Lawson pioneered home video gaming in the 1970s by helping create the Farichild Channel F, the first home video game system with interchangeable games. A New York native, Lawson is one of the few African-American engineers who worked in computing at the dawn of the video game era.

Born in New York City on December 1, 1940, Gerald Anderson Lawson is famous for being a video game pioneer, helping develop the first cartridge-based home video game console system. Lawson's father was a longshoreman and his mother worked for New York City. He had one brother, Michael.

Inspired as a child by the work of George Washington Carver, Jerry Lawson dabbled in electronics growing up, repairing televisions to make a little money before enrolling at Queens College, part of the City University of New York. His interest in computing led him in the 1970s to Silicon Valley's Homebrew Computer Club, of which he was the only black member at the time. While with the club, he crossed paths with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. (In an interview, he referred to Steve Jobs as a business-minded "sparkplug" and recalled being unimpressed when he interviewed Wozniak for a job.)

In the mid-1970s, Lawson helped create the Fairchild Channel F, a home entertainment machine that was produced in 1976 by Fairchild Semiconductor, where he worked as director of engineering and marketing. (Only years earlier, Mike Markkula, co-founder of Apple Computers Inc., had headed marketing for the company.) Though basic by today's standards, Lawson's work allowed people to play a variety of games in their homes, and paved the way for systems such as the Atatri 2600, Nintendo, Xbox and Playstation.

One of the few black engineers in his industry, Lawson later said that colleagues were often surprised to find out that he was African American: "With some people, it's become an issue. I've had people look at me with total shock. Particularly if they hear my voice, because they think that all black people have a voice that sounds a certain way, and they know it. And I sit there and go, 'Oh yeah? Well, sorry, I don't.'"

Lawson died in Mountain View, California, on April 9, 2009, due to complications relating to his diabetes. He was survived by his wife, Catherine, and two children.