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William Higinbotham
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Scientist
    (October 25, 1910-November 10, 1994)
    Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut
    Physicist
    Headed the team that created the ignition mechanism for the first atomic bomb
    Founding member and first chair of the Federation of American Scientists (1945)
    Head of the Instrumentation Division of the Brookhaven National Lab (1951-68)
    For Brookhaven’s annual Visitors’ Day created the computer game ‘Tennis for Two’ (1958)
    Dubbed ‘the Grandfather of Video Games’
    The players of ‘Tennis for Two’ had to keep score themselves.
    He never thought ‘Tennis for Two’ had any commercial potential, attributing the crowds it attracted to how boring the other Visitors’ Day displays were.
    He remained largely unknown until a dispute between Magnavox’s Ralph Baer and Atari’s Nolan Bushnell over who invented the video game resulted in a patent attorney discovering that Higinbotham had beaten out both of them.
    He had little interest in video games, and would have preferred to be remembered for his work on nuclear nonproliferation.
    For the next year’s Visitors’ Day, he added a feature to change the gravity level so players could simulate tennis on the Moon or Jupiter.
    Although he never patented ‘Tennis for Two,’ he had over 20 patents for electronic circuits.
    He noted that even if he had patented ‘Tennis for Two,’ the US government would have owned the patent, so he still would not have made any money off it.
    The Federation of American Scientists honored his work in nuclear arms control by renaming their Washington, DC, headquarters Higinbotham Hall.

Credit: C. Fishel


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