25 January 1947: the world’s first video game is patented

On this day in 1947, Thomas T Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann submitted a patent application for their “Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device” – the world's first video game.

Video games, computer games, virtual reality – they're part of a multi-billion pound industry that's developing at an astounding pace. It's still a young industry, but it's been around for a few years now – quite possibly a fair bit longer than you might think.

Ask anyone (well, not anyone) what the first video game was and they'll probably reply "Pong", the simple tennis simulator made by Atari and released in 1972. A year before that, however, came "Computer Space", made by the founders of Atari, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. It was a sort of primitive asteroids/space invaders hybrid. And before that, in 1958, there was the proto-Pong "Tennis for Two", developed on an analogue computer at the US Atomic Energy Commission's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

But the first video game to be invented came 24 years earlier. It was the snappily titled "Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device". Its inventors, Thomas T Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann, submitted a patent for it on this day in 1947. The game was based on WW2 radar screens, and appears to be similar to the 1980 Atari classic "Missile Command". A description of the game is given in the patent application: "A cathode-ray tube is used upon the face of which the trace of the ray or electron beam can be seen. One or more targets, such as pictures of airplanes, for example, are placed upon the-face of the tube and controls are available to the player so that he can manipulate the trace or position of the beam which is automatically caused to move across the face of the tube."

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The patent was granted in December 1948. But the game never actually made it into production.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.