Magnavox: The Lion who Roared
Last month we asked “What game console was produced by the California company founded by the inventors of the moving coil loudspeaker?” The answer is the Magnavox Odyssey, and it’s interesting to look at the history of this seminal console.
Peter Jensen was a Danish engineer whose professional career began in Valdemar Poulsen’s lab; Poulsen had invented of magnetic recording. Jensen was sent to the US to help publicize Poulsen’s “Radio Arc System” in 1909. Jensen, Edwin Pridham and Richard O’Connor founded the Commercial Wireless and Development Co., in Napa, California, in 1910. In 1915, Pridham and Jensen invented the moving coil loudspeaker. The company moved to Oakland in 1916 and was renamed Magnavox, meaning big voice. Jensen left the company in 1925 and founded a company to sell speakers under the Jensen name two years later.
Magnavox went on to manufacture radios, TVs and a variety of other things. In 1966 Ralph Baer, withe the help of William Harrison and William Rusch, started work on the “Brown Box.” By 1968 they had a working prototype and the Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972.
After Nolan Bushnell saw the Odyssey at a demo in Burlingame, CA, in 1972, he went back to Atari and told Al Alcorn that they had an order for a tennis-style game. There was no such order; Bushnell was testing Alcorn, who went ahead and designed PONG. Atari and many other video game companies making similar games were later sued by Magnavox, which won or settled every suit. The Magnavox lion had a big roar!