VC&G Anthology Interview: Ed Smith, Black Video Game and Computer Pioneer

February 22nd, 2017 by Benj Edwards

Ed Smith, Black Video Game Pioneer of APF ElectronicsIn 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 on his own contributions to the industry while at APF in New York City.

VC&G Anthology BadgeAs 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.

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Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

September 2nd, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

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.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] APF Imagination Machine

July 13th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

APF Imagination Machine APF-M1000 computer advertisement - 1980I'm not sure I'm ready to take such a big step, APF.

I once did a slideshow of game console-to-computer upgrades, and the APF Imagination Machine figured prominently in the list. That's because it was a combination of the APF-M1000 home video game system and the "IM-1," which was a large keyboard/speaker dock with a built-in cassette tape player (for program storage and retrieval).

What an odd machine. To my knowledge, the M1000 was the only video game system based on the Motorola 6800 CPU, which is one of the grand-daddies in the microprocessor world (first released in 1974).

While neither the console nor the computer fared well commercially, this distinctive advertisement leaves a positive impression. It was brilliantly playful and colorful for a computer ad of the time (1979; this particular scan of the ad comes from 1980).

[ From BYTE Magazine, July 1980, p.43]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Best console add-on of all time?

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