The history that doesn’t make it into the textbooks is the best stories to tell.
It’s a new year and not much has changed in the world. We’re still in a global pandemic, we’re still at home and we’re still washing our hands. But some things have changed. The US has a new President and Vice President, there are vaccines being administered every day around the world, and a lot of new Untold videos are being released.Read More
In 2020 we launched Untold, a collaboration with Driving Force Institute for Public Engagement, USC Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education. A free collection of short, compelling history videos and animations designed to shine a light on stories that don’t make it into the classroom and to question what we think we know about those that do. We believe that not everything worth knowing exists inside the cover of history textbooks. Untold has been created to fill in the gaps and bring new stories to life.Read More
Ever heard of William Higinbotham? Probably not, but did you know this American physicist helped create the first Atomic bomb during World War II and then went on to create the first American video-game – a precursor to Pong entitled Tennis for Two!
Creating the Infamous Atomic Bomb
Higinbotham was born in Connecticut in 1910 and grew up in Caledonia, New York. He earned his undergraduate degree from Williams College in 1932 and continued his studies at Cornell University. One of the first achievements was working on the radar system at MIT from 1941 to 1943.
During World War II, he began working for the U.S. government at Los Alamos National Laboratory and headed the lab’s electronics group. In the later years of the war, his team developed electronics for the first-ever atomic bomb which would be utilized by the U.S. for the Pacific war in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. He also spent his life trying to slow down the nuclear arms race that ensued as a result of the atomic bomb’s creation.
A Career Change like No Other
In 1948, Higinbotham joined Brookhaven National Laboratory’s instrumentation group. During that time, he would be responsible for the annual visitor exhibits of which thousands of people would come tour the lab. Most of the existing exhibits were rather dull. Higinbotham thought he could better capture visitors’ interest by creating an interactive demonstration
Higinbotham wrote: “It might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society.”
Tennis for Two
Just like that, Tennis for Two was conceptualized. The instrumentation group had a small analog computer that could display various curves, including the path of a bouncing ball, on an oscilloscope. It took Higinbotham only a couple of hours to conceive the idea of a tennis game, and only a few days to put together the basic pieces. Thanks to Higinbotham’s background in radar systems helped him immensely to design the simple, game display.
Tennis for Two is often marked as a precursor to 1970’s Pong except it had a few caveats. You had to note the score manually; no in-game counter but it didn’t matter as visitors loved it! It quickly became the most popular exhibit at the Laboratory, with people standing in long lines to get a chance to play.
Want to Know More?
Watch the story of Tennis For Two as part of Untold’s The Museum of Artifacts That Made America series.
We are pleased to announce the official launch of Untold!
Untold is a free collection of short historical videos and animations that dive deeper into the stories you’ve heard before, and delve into the stories that time forgot.
Head to the official Untold YouTube channel – UntoldEdu – to watch the videos now! New videos are uploaded every Wednesday.
Untold features four series:
- America Explained – Exploring America’s history and how it impacts today’s society – from the Founding Mothers to what marijuana tells us about States’ rights.
- The Museum of Artifacts that Made America – From the first video games to the cotton gin; how do the inventions of the past impact the world around us today?
- Hidden Histories – Hidden Histories shines a light on influential Americans whose stories don’t usually make it into the textbooks – from the “Robin Hood of Harlem” to the greatest athlete of the 20th century.
- Speeches that changed America – Words have power. These speeches helped to change the course of American history.