While the video game itself might have been invented before Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney decided to start the company, it was Atari that effectively launched the video game industry. And it was on this date 40 years ago that Atari began its march toward history.
Five months after the company opened its doors on June 27, 1972, it introduced the world to Pong, and the way America (and the world) played games changed. Five years later, the company would launch a new revolution with the introduction of the Atari 2600 home gaming console.
The company has seen a number of famous alumni, including both Steve Jobs, who had his first real job at Atari after dropping out of college, and Bill Gates, who was actually fired from the company after his project got stalled.
Both, of course, went on to much greater things. But Bushnell likes to think that the experience both had at Atari gave them the confidence to launch Apple and Microsoft.
"Atari showed that young people could start big companies," he says. "Without that example it would have been harder for Jobs and Bill Gates, and people who came after them, to do what they did."
Bushnell and Dabney had just $500 between them when Atari was founded. Within 10 years, the company was collecting $2 billion in annual sales.
For Bushnell, things came to an end as abruptly as they took off, though. Desperate for research and development funding as it created the 2600, Bushnell sold the company to Warner Communications (better known today as Time Warner) in 1976 for $28 million. By November of that year, he was forced out due to in-fighting.
The 2600 took off and the company was a technology leader, but in 1983, a deluge of poor quality games -- including the infamous E.T -- led to the crash of the video game industry. And no company fell harder than Atari.
The company has been shuffled around a number of times since then. Today, it's owned by a Paris-based holding company. Bushnell avoided the company for decades, focusing on other ventures (like founding Chuck E. Cheese), but in 2010 he returned to the company that set him on his path, serving in an advisory role.
"The brand is still powerful, and it's not just a retro thing," he says. "It has a whole bunch of really important intellectual property, and a lot of people still think of Atari as a company of innovation."
In honor of the company's b-day, here's our favorite ridiculous old Atari commercial. Buckle up!
- Nolan Bushnell