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.

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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. 

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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.

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