Today’s Google Doodle highlights a little-known piece of Silicon Valley history.
The animation recognizes tech and gaming pioneer Jerry Lawson, one of the few Black engineers working in the tech industry in the 1970s.
Lawson, who died in 2011 at the age of 70, cemented his place in history when the team he led at San Francisco-based Fairchild Semiconductor released a gaming console called the Fairchild Channel F in 1976.
The console was a flop with consumers, but it changed the gaming industry forever by featuring the first-ever removable video game cartridges. The design later proved much more popular when it was adopted by gaming giants like Atari and Nintendo.
Google’s doodle includes a retro-style game that users can play, and even build a game of their own, while learning facts about the engineer’s career.
Gaming cartridges weren’t Lawson’s only brush with history. As a young engineer in 1970s Silicon Valley, Lawson rubbed shoulders with multiple future tech giants. As one of the only Black members of the now-famous Homebrew Computer Club, Lawson said he met both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak around the time they were busy developing a desktop computer that would become the Apple I.
Lawson noted in a 2009 interview that he “was not impressed with them — either one, in fact.”
He did, however, recognize Jobs’ business instincts immediately.
“Jobs was kind of a spark plug. He was more business — he was more ‘push-this, push-that’ kind of a thing,” said Lawson, who later admitted to his son that Jobs did a “good job” developing the iPad.
A different figure from those early tech days made a much larger impression on Lawson: Allan Alcorn, creator of the iconic video game “Pong.”
Fairchild sent Lawson to meet Alcorn in the early 1970s to discuss electronic parts for “Pong.” The conversation prompted Lawson to start building his own coin-operated video game in his garage, called “Demolition Derby.”
When Fairchild found out about Lawson’s game, the company put him to work leading a team to develop an in-home gaming console, which would become the Channel F.
Lawson’s contributions to gaming history were often overlooked during his life. He’s received more recognition since his death in 2011.
That year, the International Game Developers Association honored Lawson’s career, with Alcorn saying of his old friend: “He’s absolutely a pioneer.”
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