Gerald A. (“Jerry”) Lawson was an African-American engineer and video game pioneer, best known for developing the first video game console system featuring interchangeable cartridges: the Fairchild Channel F.
Lawson was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1940. He grew up in Queens, pursuing a variety of scientific interests. As a teenager during the 1950s, Lawson repaired televisions and radios while maintaining an amateur radio station out of his home. He attended Queens College and the City College of New York before starting his career at ITT’s Federal Electric division. Lawson’s interest in computers intensified as he accepted positions at Grumman Aircraft, PRD Electronics, and Kaiser. In 1970, Lawson started working for Fairchild, which produced semi-conductors, microprocessors, and other transistor and circuitry equipment. The management at Fairchild asked Lawson to create a video game console prototype for the company after discovering that he constructed his own coin-operated game called Demolition Derby.
He utilized the Fairchild F8 processor in the base console and developed a mechanism which allowed for the insertion of separate memory devices (or game cartridges) without destroying the console’s semiconductors. Lawson built what eventually came to the retail market in 1976 as the Fairchild Channel F (originally called the Fairchild Video Entertainment System), the first home video game system to use separate programmable cartridges for each game.
Lawson founded Video Soft, Inc. in 1980, with Stephen Yueng and Daniel McElroy. They worked as consultants and created game cartridges for the Atari 2600 and other game systems. He later acted as a mentor to students at Stanford University. In March 2011, the International Game Developers Association honored Lawson for his innovative work in engineering and video gaming. He passed away in April 2011, in Mountain View, California.