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Proposed sculpture would honor video game inventor from Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 12. 2018 12:12AM
Ralph Baer poses with Milton Bradley's Simon, a game he invented that debuted in 1978. (BOB LAPREE/UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — The longtime Queen City resident who invented the home video game could soon be commemorated in the Millyard with a bench and sculpture of his likeness, thanks to his son and a group of city residents who have launched a kickstarter campaign.

In the mid-’60s, Ralph Baer and a small group of engineers at Sanders Associates, which later became BAE Systems, pioneered video game technology. They eventually licensed the technology to Magnavox, which produced and marketed the Odyssey in 1972, the world’s first video game console.

Baer carved out a career as an engineer and inventor after escaping Nazi Germany and fighting in World War II. He lived briefly in New York, but moved to New Hampshire in the mid-’50s, where he would live until his death in 2014 at age 92.

Baer’s son, Mark, is working with local entrepreneurs Jeremy and Elizabeth Hitchcock, John Clayton of the Manchester Historic Association and Dan Berube of the Manchester Arts Commission on a $10,000 kickstarter campaign that has a March 20 deadline. Kate Aiken, who works with the Hitchcocks on community projects, created the Kickstarter page.

“It’s not just to honor him in my view. Manchester is reinventing itself as a tech center,” Mark Baer said Friday. “Dyn and TI (Texas Instruments) and DEKA, the University of New Hampshire, downtown. This is a great thing because it honors the past and points people toward the future.”

Baer lives in Salt Lake City, but frequently returns to Manchester. He said by phone Friday that initial talks began about 18 months ago.

“I wish he was around to see it,” said Baer, who noted that his father was almost 93 when he died. “It was a shocker. It’s funny — when someone lives that long it’s kind of double-edged sword. When they die young, it’s one thing. But when they live old, it’s like, aren’t they going to live forever?”

Baer aims to keep his father’s memory alive in Manchester. He and fellow organizers are working on raising money in addition to the $10,000, which would cover the expense of new bricks and a foundation on the site.

“The statue is not included in the first goal round,” Clayton said Friday. “We’ve already talked to a couple of different sculptors, and we’re trying to use some 3-D printing technology to incorporate some technology to be a tribute to Ralph. We’re hoping it’s going to be kind of an innovative process to create the statue of Ralph.”

As of Friday, the campaign had raised $1,170 and had attracted eight backers.

The commemorative bench would feature a small brick square nestled on the Merrimack including a bench and the likeness of Ralph Baer sitting with his “signature brown box,” the early gaming console he and his team developed in the late ‘60s.

The bench would be located at Arms Park on the end of Stark Street facing the water and in front of the Millyard, which has become the city’s technology hub and is home to Oracle + Dyn (the company Jeremy Hitchcock co-founded as Dyn) as well as the Millyard Museum, operated by the Manchester Historical Association.

The idea for the memorial bench grew from several conversations.

“It started the way most Manchester things start: with a friend and a friend and a friend,” Clayton said. “Steven Lubelcyzk, who is a friend of Mark’s, was visiting the Millyard Museum one day, and he saw that Ralph Baer was included on our Manchester Wall of Fame.

“Mark subsequently came to visit me, and we started talking about a way in which we could honor his father’s memory here in Manchester,” Clayton said. “Since his lab has been recreated in the Smithsonian in Washington, why not something here in the city he called home for 60 years?”

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