Nolan Bushnell grew up in a small town near Salt Lake City, Utah. As a teenager, he repaired television sets while also working at his father’s cement contracting business. Bushnell received his first exposure to computer games attending the University of Utah as a computer graphics student. While there, he, like other computer engineer students, played math and simple video games on large and expensive mainframe computers. Bushnell also worked a part-time job at an amusement park arcade, where he became familiar with coin-op electro-mechanical games. After college, Bushnell combined his knowledge of computers, televisions, and coin-op games to make the first commercial video game, Computer Space. Based on an MIT space game, Spacewar!, Bushnell licensed the game to Nutting Associates. However Computer Space failed to generate much excitement or fanfare. Believing that he could do better on his own, Bushnell, along with his business partner Ted Dabney, founded Syzygy; when they were informed that the name was taken, they changed it to Atari, Inc. Once Atari was officially founded in 1972, Bushnell and Dabney hired engineer Al Alcorn to design a table-like ping pong game. The result was Pong—the simple tennis-like game that featured two parallel bars and a moving dot—which ultimately transformed the video game industry.
Following Pong, Atari continued to experience tremendous success. Along with Pong sequels (Doubles Pong, Super Pong, Quadrapong, and other variations), there were other subsequent hits including: Gran Trak 10, Crash ‘N Score, Breakout (a game that was famously designed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak—though their design, too complicated for mass production, was not used in the final product), Night Driver, Subs, Le Mans, and Fire Truck. In 1975, Atari created a home version of Pong (appropriately called Home Pong), which was marketed exclusively at Sears and quickly sold 150,000 units under the Sears Tele-Games label. Two years later, Atari released another consumer product, the Video Computer System (later rebranded the Atari 2600), a game system that used video game cartridges.
The Atari home consoles revolutionized the experience of gaming forever, bringing the exciting fun of the arcade into the homes of millions. Asteroids, Berzerk, Breakout, Pole Position, Robotron 2084, and Surround soon became games that many Americans could now play within their own homes. The 2600 became a substitute for many arcade games in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in turn maiming the coin-op industry. In 1982, Atari released the higher-end Atari 5200 SuperSystem, a more powerful home gaming machine with superior graphics capabilities; however, it only sold one million units. Following the release of the 5200, the Atari 7800 ProSystem hit store shelves in 1986, followed in turn by several other consoles before Atari released its final system, the Atari Jaguar, in 1993.