Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014

The Founder of Atari Is Also the Founder of Chuck E. Cheese

Now you know! Some FunFacts about Nolan Bushnell, inventor, gamer, and cheese-lover.

[optional image description]

This week marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of Atari. (Yep: "Pong" is officially approaching middle age.) Should you choose to celebrate the occasion by reading up on the company and its joysticktastic products, I highly recommend a trip to the Internet's Atari Museum. Which is just as nerdy -- and as awesome -- as it sounds. 

I'd also recommend, however, a trip to another Internet archive: the Wikipedia page of Atari's founder, Nolan Bushnell.

I am 20 percent kidding here, but 80 percent entirely serious: The page is a treasure trove of tech-geek inspiration, as told through the biography of a pipe-smoking, game-playing entrepreneur. Bushnell's life and his many creations are a reminder of the passion -- and the playfulness -- that often accompany the biggest technological innovations. Bushnell wasn't necessarily trying to invent the Next Big Thing; he was trying to build the next entertaining thing. He was trying to make meaning and money, sure; but he was also trying to have fun.

With that in mind, some FunFacts about Bushnell:

    • Bushnell and his Atari co-founder, Ted Dabney, wanted to name the company "Syzygy"; they couldn't do so, however, because that name was in use by a candle company(!), a roofing company(!!), and a Mendocino hippie commune(!!!).
    • Atari is named for a check-like position in the board game "Go."
    • A distribution agreement with Sears first help the home version of Atari's "Pong" gain popularity in the '70s.
    • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak -- both of whom had previously been involved in the development of the Atari arcade game Breakout -- created the first Macintosh using parts borrowed from Atari.
    • Wozniak and Jobs offered the Macintosh design to Bushnell, but Bushnell declined it, deciding to focus on arcade and console games.
    • Atari was one of the first companies to institute the jeans-wearing, beer-drinking culture that is the norm in Silicon Valley today. Bushnell inspired Jobs and Wozniak to instill a similar culture at Apple.
    • Bushnell once purchased a mansion formerly owned by coffee magnate James Folger.
    • Bushnell and his wife Nancy have eight children.
    • Leonardo diCaprio is set to play Bushnell in a movie.

A less fun FunFact about Bushnell:

    • He spent 15 years engaged in a legal battle with Merrill Lynch that ended up, for that long stretch, crippling his career. The battle resulted in the loss of the Bushnells' homes, a well as many of their friends and private assets.

On a cheerier note, though, here is the best Bushnell FunFact, for my money: Nolan Bushnell, inventor and engineer and entrepreneur ... is also the founder of Chuck E. Cheese. The full name of which is Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza-Time Theaters. Bushnell, at his core, is a gamer; he'd long been an admirer of what Walt Disney had done with his theme parks and other properties. Bushnell, basically, wanted to take the infrastructure of the arcade -- games, everywhere! -- and apply it to the family dining experience. (See above: eight children.) So Bushnell invented a restaurant that would offer just that combination. And: boom! Genius. Money-making, cheesy, animatronic genius. 

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Technology

Just In