The Brown Box Lightgun, 1967–68

The Brown Box Lightgun, 1967–68

Usage conditions apply
This toy gun proves that target-shooting games were part of video game history from the very beginning.
This lightgun was used to play the Target Practice game on the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Magnavox licensed the Brown Box and released the system as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. The lightgun and four target games were later sold as a separate expansion package.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
patent holder
Baer, Ralph H.
Baer, Ralph H.
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
overall: 2 1/2 in x 26 in x 6 in; 6.35 cm x 66.04 cm x 15.24 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Ralph H. Baer
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Computers & Business Machines
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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How did the Brown Box lightgun work? Did it operate in the same way as a Nintendo Entertainment System Zapper? Thank you! Leo, Video Game Enthusiast
Hi Leo, The light gun works similarly to the NES Zapper in that both used photosensitive detectors to translate light into electric current. When you pull the trigger, the photosensor recorded light levels from the screen (or from other light sources). The signal could be decoded in different ways depending on the pattern of light that the gun detected, which was then recorded on a magnetic disc. The light gun technique only works with cathode ray tube (CRT) screens, by the way, rather than with LCD or plasma screens. The U.S. patent number for Baer’s light gun is 3599221, which you can find on Google patent search. If you are curious about Baer’s early work on video games, check out his book ‘Videogames: In the Beginning’ by Rolenta Press (2005).

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