This company was his first
but definitely not his last. In fact, at age 63 he's still inventing
and starting new companies -- nearly 20 companies at last count.
Nolan Bushnell was born in 1943 in Clearfield, Utah, which is
about 10 miles from the Great Salt Lake. His father died when Nolan
was just 15, and he took over his father's business.
Hunters recognize the Bushnell name because it is the most
popular brand of binoculars on the market, but this is a different
Bushnell. His startups include well-known names, such as
entertainment software company uWink, as well as some you have
probably never heard of before.
He also started a popular restaurant chain. If you have young
kids, then your kids have probably dragged you there; it's the type
of restaurant that makes eating out fun for kids.
In his early 20s, he had applied several times to work at Disney.
He was turned down each time, but it is likely that Disney had an
influence on the restaurant chain Bushnell would later create. One
indication is the fact that, like Disney, his restaurant employed a
famous mouse as its mascot.
The restaurant chain that Nolan Bushnell founded was Chuck E.
Cheese. For a kid, what can be better than a pizza place with games
But Chuck E. Cheese was his second business; his first business
is the one that launched an entirely new industry.
At the beginning of this story, I told you that Nolan Bushnell
had only one rule for the game that he invented, and it is this:
"Avoid missing ball for high score." This simple game launched an
entirely new industry -- the video game industry.
[to top of second column]
The game was originally played only in arcades, but by 1975 the
company had created a home version as well. I can remember playing
the game on our TV set at the Niemann household with my brothers
when we were little. The game went on to become the best-selling
game of the 1975 holiday season, ringing up sales of $40 million
The game was… Pong. It was the first product for Nolan Bushnell's
Pong might not have been invented if not for a decision he had
made soon after he and a friend founded Atari. He hired an engineer
fresh out of college to design a driving game for arcades, but he
thought the task would be too difficult for the young man. So he
told him to develop a ping-pong game first (Bushnell had previously
seen an early version of the Magnavox Odyssey ping-pong game). Since
the ping-pong game his engineer developed was fun, he decided to
market that game instead. Since the name of ping-pong was already
taken, he decided to name it Pong, and the rest is history.
Nolan Bushnell bought out his friend's share in the company and
eventually sold Atari to Time Warner in 1977. He later sold the
Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain as well. He continues to invent and
start new companies. His latest venture is a new restaurant chain
called "uWink Media Bistro." The first one is scheduled to open soon
in Los Angeles.
Paul Niemann may be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about Invention Mysteries
by visiting the official
Invention Mysteries website.
Copyright Paul Niemann 2006