The Brown Box, 1967–68

The Brown Box, 1967–68

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This machine paved the way for the video games of today.
In 1967, Ralph Baer and his colleagues at Sanders Associates, Inc. developed a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Since Sanders hoped to license the technology for a commercial venture, Baer understood that the games had to be fun or investors and consumers would not be interested. In an oral history interview (copies available in the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History), Ralph Baer recalled, “The minute we played ping-pong, we knew we had a product. Before that we weren’t too sure.”
Originally called TV Game Unit #7, much like the "Pump Unit" before it, it became far better known by its nickname, “The Brown Box.” The name comes from the brown wood-grain, self-adhesive vinyl used to make the prototype look more attractive to potential investors. The "Brown Box," though only a prototype, had basic features that most video games consoles still have today: two controls and a multigame program system.
The "Brown Box" could be programmed to play a variety of games by flipping the switches along the front of the unit, as can be seen in the picture. Program cards were used to show which switches needed to be set for specific games. "Brown Box" games included ping-pong, checkers, four different sports games, target shooting with the use of a lightgun and a golf putting game, which required the use of a special attachment. Sanders licensed the "Brown Box" to Magnavox, which released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972.
Currently not on view
Object Name
video game system
Date made
patent holder
Baer, Ralph H.
Baer, Ralph H.
Baer, Ralph H.
Physical Description
aluminum (overall material)
vinyl (overall material)
overall: 4 1/4 in x 16 in x 12 1/2 in; 10.795 cm x 40.64 cm x 31.75 cm
right controller overall: 3 1/8 in x 7 1/4 in x 4 in; 7.9375 cm x 18.415 cm x 10.16 cm
left controller overall: 3 1/8 in x 7 in x 4 in; 7.9375 cm x 17.78 cm x 10.16 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Ralph H. Baer
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Computers
Popular Entertainment
Family & Social Life
Computers & Business Machines
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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I was lucky enough to play the original Brown Box at one of the Classic Gaming Expos just over 20 years ago. Even luckier, I played a game against Ralph Baer on the system. He asked for volunteers from his presentation audience and called me to the stage. He beat me easily even though he was much older than me! Great memory though.
The "Brown Box" [replica] is on display at the Nation Video Game Museum in Frisco, Tx. I went there yesterday 01/12/2020 and Ralph Baer's son was there. They had pulled out the box and hooked it up to a projector for guest to play. It was very cool to be able to play the first video game prototype ever.
Were these units sold in the late 60's before 1972 as Magnavox Odyssey? I remember my family having one in the late 60's. Where could they have purchased this?
"There were no home video consoles before the Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972 so I'm unsure what you might have had. At first, they were only sold in Magnavox's franchised dealer stores as opposed to stores such as Sears and Montgomery Ward. Sometime in the years to follow, other stores sold Odyssey products as well."

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