William Alfred "Willy" Higinbotham

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William Alfred "Willy" Higinbotham

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert George Higinbotham and Julia Dorothea Schauffler

Managed by: Private User
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About William Alfred "Willy" Higinbotham


William "Willy" A. Higinbotham (October 25, 1910 – November 10, 1994) was an American physicist. A member of the team that developed the first nuclear bomb, he later became a leader in the nonproliferation movement. He also has a place in the history of video games for his 1958 creation of Tennis for Two, the first interactive analog computer game and one of the first electronic games to use a graphical display.

Early life

Higinbotham was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut and grew up in Caledonia, New York. His father was a minister in the Presbyterian Church. He earned his undergraduate degree from Williams College in 1932 and continued his studies at Cornell University. He worked on the radar system at MIT from 1941 to 1943.


During World War II, he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory and headed the lab's electronics group in the later years of the war, where his team developed electronics for the first nuclear bomb. His team created the bomb's ignition mechanism as well as measuring instruments for the device. Higinbotham also created the radar display for the experimental B-28 bomber. Following his experience with nuclear weapons, Higinbotham helped found the nuclear nonproliferation group Federation of American Scientists, serving as its first chairman and executive secretary. From 1974 until his death in 1994, Higinbotham served as the technical editor of the Journal of Nuclear Materials Management, published by the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management.

In 1947 Higinbotham took a position at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he worked until his retirement in 1984. In 1958, as Head of the Instrumentation Division at Brookhaven, he created a computer game called Tennis for Two for the laboratory's annual exposition. A tennis simulator displayed on an oscilloscope, the game is credited with being one of the first video games. The game took Higinbotham a few weeks to complete, and was a popular attraction at the show. It was such a hit that Higinbotham created an expanded version for the 1959 exposition; this version allowed the gravity level to be changed so players could simulate tennis on Jupiter and the Moon. Higinbotham never patented Tennis for Two, though he obtained over 20 other patents during his career. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennis_for_Two


Higinbotham is said to have expressed regret that he would more likely be famous for his invention of a game than for his work on nuclear non-proliferation. When after his death, requests for information on his game increased, his son William B. Higinbotham wrote, "It is imperative that you include information on his nuclear nonproliferation work. That was what he wanted to be remembered for."

In 2011, Stony Brook University founded the William A. Higinbotham Game Studies Collection, managed by Head of Special Collections and University Archives Kristen Nyitray and Associate Professor of Digital Cultural Studies Raiford Guins. The Collection is explicitly dedicated to "documenting the material culture of screen-based game media", and in specific relation to Higinbotham: "collecting and preserving the texts, ephemera, and artifacts that document the history and work of early game innovator and Brookhaven National Laboratory scientist William A. Higinbotham, who in 1958 invented the first interactive analog computer game, Tennis for Two." As part of preserving the history of Tennis for Two, the Collection is producing a documentary on the history of the game and its current reconstruction by Peter Takacs, physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

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William Alfred "Willy" Higinbotham's Timeline

Age 84