Ray Remembers When

Brookhaven National Lab / Willy Higinbotham / Merlin

By the way, there are two "errors" in the article you sent. First one is in the caption under the photo on the first page which says: "Brookhaven's Merlin: the first video-game console. ----- etc." I don't know what led the author to refer to this as BNL's Merlin. It could be a coincidence, but at exactly the same time as the Pong game was being invented and developed, Brookhaven was designing and building the "Merlin" computer. And Willy was the chairman of the Division that was building Merlin. And, my future immediate supervisor (Bob Spinrad) was the guy who designed and received patents to two critical parts to the Merlin. These were the computer’s memory, and a key component to the memory which was a One Shot Multivibrator circuit which, on command, would produce a single shot pulse which would time and control the readout from the memory. The memory itself was made of a type of memory tube called a "Raticon" tube. The computer was a word-oriented, 48 bit, floating point arithmetic unit with a whopping 16,384 word memory. The thing was built into a room and required a big air conditioner and constant maintenance, like all computers of its time.

The second error is the line that says: “Since Brookhaven is primarily involved in defense research, Higinbotham never bothered to secure the patent for his invention." Brookhaven National Lab is the only National Lab that specifically is NOT a defense research lab, like Argonne, NAL, Los Alamos, Livermore, etc. Brookhaven engages in research aimed at the peaceful use of nuclear energy. There is nothing done at BNL that is CLASSIFIED by the government. It was normal for us to have at least one, sometimes three or four, foreign scientists working with us, and often from behind the iron curtain countries. By the way, as you look at that picture, consider that it was taken in 1958. Practically everything seen in the photo was designed and built in-house, and everything is made from vacuum tubes. My first two jobs at the lab were to build that kind of stuff.