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.

Join the Discussion

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

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in Technology

Just In