Magnavox Odyssey Video Game Unit, 1972

Contrary to popular belief, the first video games were not found at an arcade, but at home.
When most people think about the first video game, they think of Pong, the ping-pong arcade game released by Atari in 1972. However, months earlier, Magnavox had released its Magnavox Odyssey, a home video game system based on the “Brown Box,”[hyperlink] a prototype invented by Ralph Baer. Additional games and accessories, like a lightgun, were sold in separate packages.
Since Odyssey had no graphic capabilities other than the ability to change the color of the background, Magnavox included translucent color overlays to provide settings and game boards. Perhaps most surprising to modern gamers, Odyssey also came with nonelectronic game accessories such as dice, decks of cards, play money, and poker chips. These accessories were possibly included to make Odyssey more like games that currently existed. However, as the success of Pong later proved, video games, even in this early primitive state, could stand on their own without physical accessories.
With less that 200,000 units sold, Magnavox Odyssey was not considered a commercial success, especially in comparison with Pong’s runaway popularity. Among the contributing factors, poor marketing played a large role. Many potential consumers were under the impression—sometimes encouraged by Magnavox salesmen—that Odyssey would only work on Magnavox television sets. Despite these setbacks, Magnavox Odyssey and its inventor Ralph Baer paved the way for all video game systems to come.
Currently not on view
Object Name
video game system
Date made
Baer, Ralph H.
Magnavox Company
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
overall: 3 3/4 in x 16 1/2 in x 16 1/2 in; 9.525 cm x 41.91 cm x 41.91 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Computers & Business Machines
Family & Social Life
Popular Entertainment
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Computers
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Ralph H. Baer
Related Publication
Baer, Ralph H.. Videogames: In The Beginning

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