February 22nd, 2017 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Interviews, Black History, Ed Smith, APF Electronics, Imagination Machine, MP1000, Atari, Fairchild, F8, Jerry Lawson, Black Enterprise, role model, Apple
In 1978, APF Electronics introduced the MP1000, an early cartridge-based video game system. It wasn't a smash hit like offerings from Atari, but it carried within its faux woodgrain housing a hidden kernel of cultural brilliance: The console would not have existed without the work of an African-American electronics engineer named Edward Lee Smith (b. Nov 4 1954).
I first learned about Ed Smith while researching Jerry Lawson, one of the first known African-Americans in the video game industry. Not long after Lawson did his pioneering design work on the Fairchild Channel F in Silicon Valley, Smith began a similar task on the opposite side of the country, crafting his own contributions to the industry while at APF in New York City.
As part of a small engineering team, Smith helped design the MP1000 and its plug-in computer expansion module, the Imagination Machine. That work got him noticed by Black Enterprise magazine, and in 1982, Smith and Lawson were both interviewed for a feature written by S. Lee Hilliard about the roles African-Americans had played in the video game revolution, which was a hot business topic at the time.
[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Ed Smith, Black Video Game and Computer Pioneer » ]
September 2nd, 2016 by Benj Edwards
Tags: Ed Smith, APF Electronics, APF M1000, Imagination Machine, freelance work, Black History, FastCompany, Harry McCracken
Just today, FastCompany published my in-depth history of Ed Smith and APF Electronics.
APF was responsible for several video game consoles in the 1970s (like the MP1000) and a personal computer called The Imagination Machine. Ed Smith was the primary electronics designer for the MP1000, and he has quite a story to tell.
I think you guys will really enjoy the piece.
Thirty-seven years ago, New York-based APF Electronics, Inc. released The Imagination Machine, a hybrid video game console and personal computer designed to make a consumer's first experience with computing as painless and inexpensive as possible.
APF's playful computer (and its game console, the MP1000) never rivaled the impact of products from Apple or Atari, but they remain historically important because of the man who cocreated them: Ed Smith, one of the first African-American electronics engineers in the video game industry. During a time when black Americans struggled for social justice, Manhattan-based APF hired Smith to design the core element of its future electronics business.
What it took to get there, for both APF and Smith, is a story worth recounting—and one that, until now, has never been told in full.