On New Year’s Day 1948, while others nursed hangovers, Alan Alcorn took his first breath in a San Francisco hospital. It would be 24 years before Alan would bring Pong to the masses, forever changing the world. While we think of Pong as the start of the video game era, it actually started a year before Alan was born. It was in January 1947 that Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann submitted U.S. Patent 2455992, the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device.
Goldsmith Jr. and Mann’s concept wasn’t very complex by today’s standards, but for the time it was amazing. Inspired by a radar display, the two designed not just the first video game, but the first video game based on World War II.
In the game, the player would face a TV made up to look like a radar screen. The player, using a controller with two dials and a single button, would move a vector-drawn dot around the screen, targeting airplanes painted onto a transparent overlay. Once the dot was over a plane, the player would press the button, sending a missile after the plane. If the player “hits” all the planes in time, they win.
The dot would become harder to control with each successful “hit”, adding a real challenge to the game. Goldsmith and Mann really thought of everything (well, except for computer graphics).
Along with never getting a good name, the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device was never released to the public, but it was shown off by the Allen B. DuMont Laboratories, no doubt inspiring others to build on the idea.
Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr., a protege of Allen DuMont, held a number of patents during his 99 years on this planet. He helped create the home television set, he worked on improving radar tech for the military during World War II, and he – along with Estle Ray Mann – birthed the video game.
Sadly, little is known about Mann, whose history, it seems, has been lost to time.