I was deeply saddened to hear that Ralph H. Baer had died on December 6, 2014, at the age of 92. As numerous other writers have noted, Ralph invented the “Brown Box” home video game console (produced as the Magnavox Odyssey) and the electronic game Simon. He donated his professional papers to The Strong, and I had the privilege of processing them in 2013. Ralph’s papers spanned more than 40 years of his lengthy career in the toy and game industry. As I worked on making his collection available for research use, carefully removing thousands of staples (because Ralph never used one staple when eight would do) and verifying that his carefully dated pages were in order, I realized that I was getting attached to Ralph. (Fellow archivists, back me up here—when you spend an extended amount of time examining a person’s handwriting and deciphering their personal organizational system, you start to feel like you know the person, right?)
The Ralph H. Baer papers in The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play provide amazing insight into the thought process behind many of Ralph’s creations from inception to production. He kept meticulous records; he frequently said that the most important advice he could give to budding inventors was to document everything, making sure to date and sign every paper. An inventor may conceive of thousands of product ideas throughout his or her lifetime, only to develop a single contraption that makes it to the marketplace. Ralph, however, successfully produced dozens of memorable playthings. He owned 50 patents in the United States and occasionally found himself tied up in legal proceedings involving his designs.