Pong prototype

This was the actual unit placed in Andy Capp’s bar in Sunnyvale in 1972. It still worked as of 2002.


“The machine is broken.”

That terse message summoned Al Alcorn to Andy Capp’s bar in Sunnyvale two weeks after Alcorn had installed the Pong arcade game. Pong’s problem? Popularity. Its milk carton coin-catcher was jammed with quarters.

Pong heralded a gaming revolution. Mechanical arcade games like pinball had appeared the late 1800s. Pong, designed by Alcorn for Atari in 1972, launched the video game craze that transformed and reinvigorated the old arcades and made Atari the first successful video game company.

Whose Pong is It?

Atari created Pong but Atari never patented it. Rival companies swiftly introduced Pong-like games, diluting Atari’s profits. Meanwhile Magnavox sued Atari for copyright infringement, claiming Atari founder Nolan Bushnell had stolen the video ping-pong idea from Magnavox’s booth at a 1972 electronics fair. Atari settled before it went to trial.

"We had this stupid Pong game sitting there, and I was scooping out fistfuls of quarters. You know, the thing just ran forever."

Al Alcorndesigner of Pong
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Super Pong game

This home version of Pong quickly became a success in part due to broad distribution through Sears stores. Designers Al Alcorn, Bob Brown, and Harold Lee improved on the 1972 Pong arcade game by creating custom integrated circuits that lowered cost and provided better sound and on-screen scoring.

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Telegames advertisement from Sears Christmas Wish Book

Sears aggressively promoted Atari’s home versions of Pong with the Tele-Games brand. It later also re-branded and sold the Atari 2600 Video Computer System.

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Telstar Alpha

Telstar Alpha offered four variants on Pong. The two paddles were built into the unit, which made play somewhat cramped.

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Allan Alcorn’s first Atari employee badge

Allan Alcorn was Atari’s third employee after founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney.

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Pong video game advertisement

This advertisement, directed at owners of bars and pinball arcades, enticed them to install Pong. By 1974, Atari had sold over 8000 units, and would eventually sell 35,000. They are now prized as collector’s items.

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Coleco Telstar Alpha advertisement

The Colortron system was among dozens of unauthorized versions of Pong made in the 1970s.

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