Honoring Jerry Lawson

Black people’s impact on the history of the gaming industry is often overlooked and one notable person in this regard is Jerry Lawson. Lawson was an engineer for Fairchild Semiconductor’s video game division where he developed and invented the interchangeable cartridge which was implemented in the Fairchild Channel F video game console.  The Fairchild Channel F came was released in 1976 and for decades his invention was used for video game consoles to come. He later founded a video game company of his own called Videosoft, where he produced cartridges for the Atari 2600.

His imprint on the game industry is evident as tons of video game consoles released through the decades have used game cartridges such as The NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Neo Geo and Game Boy. Even though games have predominately gone disc-based or digital since the PlayStation era, the Nintendo DS consoles still uses cartridges and the Nintendo Switch releasing next month is using ROM-based cartridges.

Lawson’s accomplishments were accompanied by his determination to learn. He was a self-taught engineer. In his youth he used operated ham radios and made money on the side by repairing his neighbor’s televisions in Queens, New York. Lawson was only one of two people of color at the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley with Ron Jones being the other and there he met Steve Jobs who would later become the CEO at Apple. In an interview with Vintage Computing, Lawson said that Jobs didn’t impress him. Lawson left this earth at the age of 70 in April 2011. Up until he was moved into the hospital, he was said to have kept building devices for lasers, telescopes and more showing that technology was his passion.

While the likes of Miyamoto, Kojima, and Gabe Newell’s contribution are well known among video game aficionados, Jerry Lawson needs more recognition for the industry he helped shaped. So dust off your GameBoy, Genesis, or Nintendo 64 and play a game in his memory.

  • daizyujin

    Ah the Fairchild. Only seen one my whole life at a Goodwill.

    • Jbumi

      Your mentioning Goodwill reminded me of a story. I was at one a number of years ago & a couple of kids around 8 -10 years old were looking at 8-tracks. One asked the other what they are. He said they were video game cartridges from old games! I thought it was cute!

  • BiffChadwell

    Oh this is very cool. Never knew about this man, but the creator of cartridges is certainly one to pay attention to when it comes to gaming history 🙂 I applaud you guys for looking to highlight some black industry vets this month; I imagine it will be a difficult task. Anecdotally speaking, from both my time going to school for this stuff and being a developer, the vast, vast, vast majority of industry people are white dudes.

    Frankly its baffling; the interest is absolutely there – for all types of people. But you don’t see, like, streamers transition into industry jobs. I just don’t get it, but I hope it improves in the future.