(AS-15: dp. 9734; 1. 530'6"; b. 73'4"; dr. 25'6"; s. 18.5
k.; cpl. 444; a. 4 5"; cl. Fulton)
The second Bushnell (AS-15) was launched 14 September 1942 by Mare Island Navy Yard; sponsored by
Mrs. Luther Gibson; and commissioned 10 April 1943, Commander C. T. Bonney in command.
On 27 June she departed for Pearl Harbor, arriving 3 July. While at the Submarine Base, Submarine Squadron 14 was assembled with Bushnell serving as tender and staff headquarters for the Squadron and Division ,Staff. Bushnell remained at Pearl Harbor until September 1943 when she sailed for Midway Island to deliver provisions and structural materials. Upon returning to Pearl Harbor in December she resumed her task of refitting submarines until April 1944.
Bushnell weighed anchor for Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, 27 April laden with provisions, fuel, and materiel. Majuro Atoll soon became a regular submarine operating base, although entirely dependent upon the tender. On 5 February 1945 Bushnell returned to Pearl Harbor. On 29 May the tender steamed to Midway to refit submarines arriving there from war patrols. She was thus engaged until the cessation of hostilities.
From September to December 1945 Bushnell continued to act as a repair vessel for submarines throughout the period of demobilization and peacetime reorganization of the submarine force in the San Diego area. In January 1946 she sailed to Guam to tend submarines engaged in the occupation of Japan. This tour of duty continued until April, at which time she was recalled to Pearl Harbor for duty with Submarine Squadron 1. Bushnell operated with Submarine Squadron I until 24 May 1947. At that time she sailed to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for overhaul. Returning to Pearl Harlbor 10 September she resumed her duties with Squadron 1. In December 1947 Bushnell returned to Mare Island and reported for inactivation. She was placed out of commission in reserve 30 April 1948.
Bushnell was recommissioned 21 February 1952. After intensive training along the west coast Bushnell departed for the Atlantic 7 May 1952. Shetransited the Panama Canal 21 May and proceeded to Key West, Fla., for duty with Submarine Squadron 12. Since that time Bushnell has operated at Key West tending the boats of Squadron 12 and conducting brief periods of service at Norfolk and short cruises in the Caribbean.
USS Bushnell (AS-15)
USS Bushnell (AS-15) was a Fulton-class submarine tender launched on 14 September 1942 at the Mare Island Navy Yard sponsored by Mrs. Luther Gibson and commissioned on 10 April 1943, with Commander C. T. Bonney in command.
On 27 June, she departed for Pearl Harbor, arriving on 3 July. While at the Submarine Base, Submarine Squadron 14 (SubRon 14) was assembled with Bushnell serving as tender and staff headquarters for the Squadron and Division Staff. Bushnell remained at Pearl Harbor until September 1943, when she sailed for Midway Island to deliver provisions and structural materials. Upon returning to Pearl Harbor in December, she resumed her task of refitting submarines until April 1944.
Bushnell weighed anchor on 27 April for Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, laden with provisions, fuel, and material. Majuro Atoll soon became a regular submarine operating base, although entirely dependent upon the tender. On 5 February 1945, Bushnell returned to Pearl Harbor. On 29 May, the tender steamed to Midway to refit submarines arriving there from war patrols. She was thus engaged until the cessation of hostilities.
From September–December 1945, Bushnell continued to act as a repair vessel for submarines throughout the period of demobilization and peacetime reorganization of the submarine force in the San Diego area. In January 1946, she sailed to Guam to tend submarines engaged in the occupation of Japan. This tour of duty continued until April, at which she was recalled to Pearl Harbor for duty with Submarine Squadron 1. Bushnell operated with SubRon 1 until 24 May 1947. At that time, she sailed to Mare Island for overhaul. Returning to Pearl Harbor on 10 September, she resumed her duties with SubRon 1. In December 1947, Bushnell returned to Mare Island and reported for inactivation. She was placed out of commission in reserve on 30 April 1948.
Bushnell was recommissioned on 21 February 1952. After intensive training along the west coast, she departed for the Atlantic on 7 May. She transited the Panama Canal on 21 May and proceeded to Key West, Florida for duty with SubRon 12. Since that time, she operated at Key West, tending the boats of SubRon 12 and conducting brief periods of service at Norfolk and short cruises in the Caribbean. During that time she appeared in the backdrop of the ending of Operation Petticoat.
In 1965, she suffered a serious fire in some electrical generation equipment — and earned the nickname "the burning Bush". There was only one minor injury in that incident, and it didn't affect operations for long. She returned to Key West in 1967 to continue her service to the submarine fleet. In 1968, she celebrated her 25th year of service. She continued to supply services to SubRon 12 as well as support services to other ships in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast regions. She made regular visits to New Orleans, Mobile, Fort Lauderdale and Kingston, Jamaica.
In 1969, Bushnell was the Navy response ship for Hurricane Camille. She and her crew rebuilt Pilottown, Louisiana, so that river traffic could again move on the Mississippi. Unfortunately, however, her nickname came to haunt her when in early 1970 a high pressure airline ruptured in the bilge, atomizing the oil and other liquids resulting in an explosion and fire that damaged the ship beyond repair. Her own crew did all of her own decommissioning work (not in a shipyard) in early 1970.
She was replaced in Key West by her sister ship Howard W. Gilmore.
Bushnell was placed out of commission on 20 June 1970 and was towed to Norfolk where she was turned over to the Reserve Fleet who used her as their new headquarters. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 November 1980.
On 31 May 1983, the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley towed Bushnell out to sea approximately 175 mi (282 km) to 35° 34.7 North, 73° 18.6 West. On 3 June, she was sunk by MK-48 torpedoes fired by Atlanta, with Finback in company.
Bushnell AS-15 - History
The second US Navy ship named for David Bushnell. See the short biography with AS-2.
|USS Bushnell launching|
On 27 June she departed for Pearl Harbor, arriving 3 July. While at the Submarine Base, Submarine Squadron 14 was assembled with Bushnell serving as tender and staff headquarters for the Squadron and Division Staff. Bushnell remained at Pearl Harbor until September 1943 when she sailed for Midway Island to deliver provisions and structural materials. Upon returning to Pearl Harbor in December she resumed her task of re-fitting submarines until April 1944.
Bushnell weighed anchor for Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, 27 April laden with provisions, fuel, and materiel. Majuro Atoll soon became a regular submarine operating base, although entirely dependent upon the tender.[Supplemental: submarines serviced at the Atoll included Trepang, Snapper and Tilefish]. On 5 February 1945 Bushnell returned to Pearl Harbor. On 29 May the tender steamed to Midway to refit sub-marines arriving there from war patrols. She was thus engaged until the cessation of hostilities.
From September to December 1945 Bushnell continued to act as a repair vessel for submarines throughout the period of demobilization and peacetime reorganization of the submarine force in the San Diego area. In January 1946 she sailed to Guam to tend submarines engaged in the occupation of Japan. This tour of duty continued until April, at which time she was recalled to Pearl Harbor for duty with Submarine Squadron 1.
Bushnell operated with Submarine Squadron 1 until 24 May 1947. At that time she sailed to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for overhaul. Returning to Pearl Harbor 10 September she resumed her duties with Squadron 1.
In December 1947 Bushnell returned to Mare Island and reported for inactivation. She was placed out of commission in reserve 30 April 1948. Bushnell was recommissioned 21 February 1952. After intensive training along the west coast Bushnell departed for the Atlantic 7 May 1952. She transited the Panama Canal 21 May and proceeded to Key West, Fla., for duty with Submarine Squadron 12. Since that time Bushnell has operated at Key West tending the boats of Squadron 12 and conducting brief periods of service at Norfolk and short cruises in the Caribbean.
History from the Dictionary of American Fighting Ships.
|The Bushnell just after re-commissioning in 1952 |
Photo courtesy Donald Oke
|The Bushnell underway 1963 |
Photo courtesy Donald Oke
|The Bushnell underway 1963 |
Photo courtesy Donald Oke
|The Bushnell inport at New Orleans, 1963 |
Photo courtesy Donald Oke
|The Bushnell"25th Year" Certificate |
Photo courtesy Thomas L. Heritier
In 1968 the Bushnell celebrated her 25th year of service. She continued to supply services to the 12th Submarine Squadron - as well as support services to other ships in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast regions. She made regular visits to New Orleans, Mobile, Fort Lauderdale and Kingston, Jamacia.
In 1969 the Bushnell was the Navy response ship for hurricane Camile andshe and her crew rebuilt Pilottown so that river traffic could again move on theMississippi.
However - unfortunately - her nick-name came to haunt her - when in early 1970 a high pressure airline ruptured in the bilge - atomizing the oil and other liquids resulting in an explosion and fire that damaged the ship beyond repair. Bushnell's own crew did all of her own decommissioning work (not in a shipyard) inearly 1970. Bushnell was placed out of commission on 20 June 1970 and was towed to Norfolk where she was turned over to Reserve Fleet who used her as their new headquarters.
On 31 May, 1983 the USS Edenton (ATS 1) towed the Bushnell out to sea approximately 175 miles to 35° 34.7 North, 73° 18.6 West. Then on June 3, 1983 she was sunk by MK-48 torpedoes fired by USS Atlanta (SSN 712), with the Finback (SSN 670) in company (more details on Bushnell's Page Two).
(History from 1959 - 1983 provided by Chief Petty Officer Bruce Paxon, Ret. and supplemented by Robert Petrick CWO-4 USN (ret)- to whom we are very grateful)
U.S.S. HOWARD W. GILMORE
The USS Howard W. Gilmore (AS-16) keel was laid on 21 December 1942 at Mare Island Navy Yard in California. She was launched on 16 September 1943, sponsored by Mrs. H. W. Gilmore, widow of Howard W. Gilmore and was commissioned 24 May 1944.
AS-16 was named for Howard W. Gilmore, the Commander of the USS Growler (SS-215), who under enemy fire in 1943 ordered his sub to dive while he remained on the brigde. Growler was saved and Commander Gilmore received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
After shake down Gilmore sailed for Pearl Harbor in August 1944 and then on to Majuro Atoll in September 1944. There, for four months, she supported the US Submarine froce that were fighting the Japanese. After picking up personnel and supplies in Pearl Harbor she departed for Brisbane, Australia, arriving in February 1945. Howard W. Gilmore next sailed to Subic Bay, PI. arriving in March 1945. She remained at Subic Bay through the end of the War.
Departing for the United States on 31 August 1945, Gilmore touched at Pearl Harbor, transited the Panama Canal and arrived in New York City on 17 October 1945.
Beginning in January 1946, Howard W. Gilmore was homeported in Key West, Florida. Until 1959, she never ventured beyond Norfolk to the north and the Caribbean to the south.
The Howard W. Gilmore changed homeport to Charleston SC in July 1959. She spent nearly two years tending Atlantic Fleet submarines then was overhauled in Charleston NSY from November 1961 to May 1962. This Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization Overhaul (FRAM) provided Gilmore with the ability to support nuclear submarines. After post overhaul fleet Refresher Training in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she returned to sub tending at Charleston SC.
The Cuban Missle Crisis October 1962 push Howard W. Gilmore to full capacity as several sqaudrons of US submarines surged in to the Atlantic off of Florida and the Caribbean. As the Crisis receded, Gilmore resumed a normal tempo of material and technical support of US Atlantic Submarine Force. The 1960s passed with her homeported in Charleston with short cruises in support of various training operations. servicing two squadrons of submarines for Caribbean operations.
USS Howard W. Gilmore replaced USS Bushnell (AS 15) at Key West in 1970. From 1973 until 1980 Gilmore was homeported in La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy.
USS Howard W. Gilmore was decommissioned on 30 September 1980. Gilmore was laid up at the NISMF at James River Virginia, then scrapped in 2006.
The USS Howard W. Gilmore (AS-16) operational history and significant events of her service career follow:
Bushnell AS-15 - History
It was in fact MY pleasure to hear from you and the Bushnell Club!
I am working on getting some additional details from Vice Admiral J. Guy Reynolds, USN (Ret.), who was in the safety control observer helicopter which was in flight near the ship for the entire operation (we refueled the helo a couple of times throughout the day as I remember). At the time, he was Captain Reynolds, the Program Manager for the MK 48 Advanced Capability Submarine Torpedo (MK 48 ADCAP), within the Naval Sea Systems Command.
Since you got my memory going last evening, the whole event is coming back to me fairly vividly. As I told you, I do not remember the date or month. I was Commander Submarine Squadron SIX in Norfolk at the time (1982 to 1984). COMSUBLANT designated me as the Officer in Tactical Command (OTC) for the SINKEX.
My command ship was a Navy fast frigate (FF) whose name I do not recall. I was embarked with key members of my squadron staff on the FF. We got underway from Norfolk Naval Station early that morning with Captain Reynolds and his people with me on the FF. The ship had a Navy military helo on board.
The "Old Lady", Bushnell was prepared environmentally by the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. [Furthermore, she was completely "buttoned up" with all watertight doors/hatches securely dogged.]She was towed to the SINKEX operating area along the Virginia coast in deep water south of Norfolk. I remember the weather as being bright and sunny, which made it easier to control shipping in the area. P3 patrol aircraft from NAS Norfolk supported the ops.
When we finally got the area cleared of interfering shipping, the firing submarine, USS Atlanta (SSN 712), with USS Finback (SSN 670) in company, was ordered to submerge and proceed to the firing point which was several miles from the target, which was now adrift, the tug having cast her off.
The submarine then fired one MK 48 ADCAP torpedo, which exploded underneath the Bushnell. The tough old bird began to slowly list to port, and over the next hour had taken on considerable water. But she refused to go down. As the day began to wane, we decided to send her to the bottom with a second torpedo. She sank within the hour [after being hit by the 2nd torpedoe], rolling over and then going down stern first.
It was a dramatic and yet sad sight, but it was good to know that she served her nation until the very end, participating in a large ship sinking exercise to validate the tremendous power and capability of the new MK 48 ADCAP Torpedo Weapon System. And she created a wonderful habitat for the marine life on the bottom of the Atlantic.
I am proud to salute all the former crewmembers who served in Bushnell for their dedication, technical skill and devotion in contributing to making ours the finest submarine force in the world during both war and peace, and to wish those who are still with us fair winds and following seas.
The Complete History of the AR-15 Rifle
The ArmaLite 15 is a classic assault rifle. You might know it better as an M-16, the U.S. Military's version of the weapon. Today, we are going to take you through the history of this iconic American weapon, from its inception in 1959 to the present day.
A common misconception about the AR-15 is that "AR" stands for "assault rifle," a phrase that stems from the German "Sturmgewehr" ("Storm" or "assault" rifle) used in World War II propaganda posters and later applied to military-style weapons. This shouldn't be confused with the term "Assault Weapon," a legal term for a specific class of illegal firearm during the years 1994 to 2004.
Ironically enough, the AR-15 fits both of these descriptions: it's a military style rifle that was illegal during the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. The "AR" in the name, however, stands for the name of the manufacturer: ArmaLite.
1950's: The ArmaLite Company is Founded
The ArmaLite Company traces its humble beginnings back to the early 1950's in Hollywood, California. The company was founded by George Sullivan, who worked as the patent counsel for the Lockheed Corporation (today Lockheed Martin). The small arms company received its funding from the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, the company that would soon become Fairchild-Republic, a major manufacturer of military aircraft for the U.S. Military.
Originally, the company focused on weapons design, rather than manufacture. Instead of producing weapons themselves, ArmaLite focused on weapons design. The chief architect behind ArmaLite's weapons designs was Eugene Stoner, a young man in his thirties with a knack for weapons design. Sullivan quickly promoted Stoner to the position of chief design engineer for ArmaLite.
1954-1956: ArmaLite Begins Designing Rifles
In 1954, the first weapon design from ArmaLite was produced: the AR-5. This bolt-action rifle with a .22 Hornet round was developed as a survival rifle for the flight crew in the U.S. Airforce.
What was the concept behind the AR-5? The United States Air Force needed a rifle that would be lightweight and compact enough to stowaway onboard a bomber in the airplane's survival kits.
The Airforce adopted the AR-5, calling it the MA-1, adopting it for regular use in 1956. The AR-5 came apart, letting you stow it away, and would even float, making it ideal for use during a water landing.
The AR-5 put ArmaLite on the map, giving them the credibility they needed to go on to develop new firearm innovations.
Many early designs were civilian survival weapons, like the AR-7.
Despite the company having the backing of two of the largest military aircraft manufacturers, ArmaLite originally intended to focus on making civilian weaponry, rather than craft weapons for the military.
These early ArmaLite designs were built to be taken apart into pieces and put back together making it something that could be stored on an aircraft or vehicle for emergency survival situations.
1955: The U.S. Army Seeks a Replacement Rifle
In 1955, the United States Military decided it was time to replace the tried-and-true M1 Garand, the staple of World War II that had served admirably at the time, but was limited in regards to its ammunition capacity. The M1 Garand only held eight rounds and weighed over ten and a half-pounds, making the elegant firearm a bit of an antique.
Armaline came late to the race to design the military's next rifle, introducing the AR-10 into the mix alongside the Springfield T-44 and T-48. The company only had time to show the military two hand-built models based on their fourth AR-10 prototype.
The AR-10 prototypes were designed with a straight stock, elevated sights, an aluminum flash suppressor, a recoil compensator, and a gas system.
Most of the military had positive things to say about the AR-10. It was lightweight, and many of the testers thought it to be one of the best rifles they'd ever shot.
Unfortunately, the barrel could not past the "torture test," bursting under pressure. Although ArmaLite quickly introduced a steel barrel to counteract this damage, it was too late, causing the Springfield Armory to advise the military not to adapt the AR-10 rifle, reporting that it would take five or more years of testing to bring the weapon up to date.
Instead, they chose the T44, now known as the M-14, which was adopted in 1957.
1956-1959: International Licensing Agreement For The AR-10
On the fourth of July, 1957 the Dutch weapons company Artillerie Inrichtingen bought rights to produce the AR-10 for five years.
In 1957, the international arms dealer Samuel Cummings secured a weapons contract with Nicaragua, the chief military commander of which was General Anatasio Somoza, the same Anatasio Somoza who would later become famous as the dictator of the country, until the Nicaraguan people had enough, overthrowing him in 1979. Anatasio Somoza tested the AR-10 rifles himself. While firing the rifles, the bolt lug over the ejector broke, nearly slicing the general's hand. This ended all deals with Nicaragua.
Meanwhile, Artillerie Inrichtingen kept finding factory defects and problems with the new AR-10 rifle, which meant that the rifle received very distribution. Most of the AR-10 rifles made their way to Sudan and Portugual.
1959: ArmaLite Sells the AR-15 Design to Colt Production Begins
In 1959, ArmaLite finally catches a break, striking a deal with Colt. The company manages to sell both the AR-10 and the new AR-15 designs to Colt Firearms.
At this point, Robert Fremont, who had been one of the major players on the design team for both weapons, heads over to Colt to help oversee production.
At this time, the AR-7 gets launched full scale, marketed as a civilian survival rifle, although it also saw some military use.
The first AR-15 weapons were sold by Colt to the Federation of Malaya (modern day Malaysia).
1961: Eugene Stoner Becomes a Consultant at Colt
At this time, Eugene Stoner leaves the ArmaLite company, taking a position as a consultant at Colt. Around the same time, the United States Airforce tests the AR-15, commissioning 8,500 for Air Force use.
1963: The M-16 is Born
With the AR-15 in the hands of the Air Force, a standard model of the rifle is born. They dub it the M-16, the most famous service weapon of the United States Military.
General Curtis LeMay saw a demonstration of the AR-15 in 1960. Impressed by the prowess of this new firearm, when General LeMay became the Air Force Chief of Staff in the Summer of 1961, he placed 80,000 AR-15's on order for the U.S. Air Force.
In 1961, ten AR-15's were sent to South Vietnam, as the United States continued to penetrate into the jungles of Indochina.
Despite a great deal of success, US Army wasn't enthusiastic about adopting the new rifle.
Although test after test was ordered, even demanding the attention of President John F. Kennedy itself, two things were clear. First, the United States was outmatched and outgunned by the AK-47 in South Vietnam. Second, the U.S. Army was too rigid and opposed to change to replace the clearly inferior M-14.
Despite the continued resistance, production problems with the M-14 forced the hands of Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense. The United States needed a rifle that could be used in all four branches of service. The M-16 would be this weapon.
As I mentioned, the M-16 was adapted to be used against the AK-47. Today, of course, the AK-47 is known as the M-16's greatest nemesis. The debate about which of these two weapons is better has kept history buffs and gun owners up until the wee hours of the morning many a late night.
In this article, we'll refrain from passing judgment between the two.
1965: The M-16 Becomes the Primary Service Rifle
The first M-16 rifles were issued in March of 1965.
The Vietnam War was in full swing, and American troops poured into South Vietnam, armed with 300,000 brand new M-16's bought from Colt.
The rifle wasn't without its problems. First, soldiers weren't given cleaning kits. Even today, the AR-15 models are infamous for being much less able to take rugged terrain than its Russian counterpart: the Ak-47.
Colt had erroneously claimed the rifle to be self-cleaning. This meant the rifle wasn't clean, and would keep jamming. Most often, the problem was "failure to extract," i.e. the cartridge would get stuck in the chamber after firing.
Report after report came in about soldiers found dead, rifles in pieces in front of them as they desperately tried to put their rifle back together in time to shoot back. In the words of one Marine:
"We left with 72 men in our platoon and came back with 19, Believe it or not, you know what killed most of us? Our own rifle. Practically every one of our dead was found with his (M16) torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it" (Time Magazine, 1967)
The new rifle was designed, a version of the M-16 called the M16A1. Included with the rifle was a comic book, outlining how to clean and take care of the rifle.
1989: Production of the First AR-15's for Civilians Begins
With the AR-15 patents long expired, Jim Glazier and Karl Lewis started manufacturing the first civilian versions of the AR-15. These opened AR-15's up to the civilian market from the year 1989 to 1994.
1994-2004: Civilian Production Halts
Civilian production had to be halted, however, after the Federal Assault Weapons Ban made civilian assault weapons illegal from 1994 to 2004. Unfortunately, this legislation resulted in no significant decrease in gun violence.
Did the legislation ultimately fail? In light of the growing number of public mass shootings in recent years, the debate between gun enthusiasts and anti-gun activists continues.
2012-Present: The AR-15 Media Controversy
The AR-15 has recently been in the media spotlight, as the weapon has been involved in a number of deadly assaults on civilians in the United States. This has launched a heated debate over the future of civilian versions of the AR-15 and other similar rifles.
The AR-15 was used on the deadly assault on Sandy Hook, the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, as well as the shooting a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.
Could renewing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban have prevented these violent crimes? Lawmakers continue to disagree. Most statistics, however, point in the direction of handguns, not rifles, as being involved in most violent crimes.
Today: The M-16 and Militaries Around the World
The AR-15 continued to be the service weapon of the United States in the years to come, until finally being phased out for the M4 Carbine, a weapon based off the M-16, but designed to be shorter and lighter.
Nevertheless, the M-16 is still used throughout the world by militaries all over.
Even though it's starting to be phased out in the United States, it still remains a popular choice for militaries across the world.
The M16 remains in use in more than fifteen NATO countries and over eighty countries across the globe. Manufacturing continues in the United States, Canada, and China. It has also become the focus of civilian gun enthusiasts who have developed new markets for accessories like AR red dot scopes and other optics systems.
The M-16 might have been replaced in the United States Military, but it's far from an antique. Production continues, as the M-15 models continue to see use in militaries around the world. Likewise, the AR-15 continues to be a favorite of hunters and gun hobbyists, making it one of the most popular modern sporting rifle choices on the market today.
David Bushnell (1740–1824), of Westbrook, Connecticut, was an American inventor and a veteran of the Revolutionary War. He is credited with creating the first submarine ever used in combat, while studying at Yale College in 1775. He called it the Turtle because of its look in the water. His idea of using water as ballast for submerging and raising his submarine is still in use today, as is the screw propeller, which was used in the Turtle.
While at Yale, Bushnell proved that gunpowder could be exploded under water. He also made the first time bomb. He combined these ideas by building the Turtle which was designed to attack ships by attaching a time bomb to their hulls, while using a hand powered drill and ship auger bit to penetrate the hulls. He used the Turtle in attempts to attack British ships which were blockading New York Harbor in the summer of 1776. His efforts failed every time because the Turtle’s boring device was unable to penetrate the copper sheeting lining in the ships’ hulls which was designed to protect against parasites in their previous station, the Caribbean. The Turtle eventually sank when it was trying to retreat from British observation, yet a Bushnell family member as sole commander, bailed out and survived.
In 1777 Bushnell attempted to use a floating mine to blow up the HMS Cerberus (1758) in Niantic Bay the mine struck a small boat near the Cerberus and detonated killing four sailors and destroying the vessel, but not the intended target. In 1778 he launched what became lauded as the Battle of the Kegs, in which a series of mines was floated down the Delaware River to attack British ships anchored there, killing two curious young boys and alerting the British. The attack was ineffectual.
In 1778, General Washington proposed the formation of a new military unit to be known as the “Corps of Sappers and Miners” and in the summer of the next year it was organized. Bushnell was given command of the Corps with the rank of captain-lieutenant on August 2, 1779. On 6 May 1779, he was taken prisoner in Middlesex Parish, now Darien, Connecticut.
On 8 June 1781, David Bushnell was commissioned as a captain in the Continental Army and was at the Siege of Yorktown in the following September and October. This was the only time the unit had had the opportunity to serve in combat.
Bushnell served in the Army until he was discharged on June 3, 1783. He then became an original member of the Connecticut Society of the Cincinnati, an organization formed by officers who were veterans of the Continental Army and Navy.
At some point after the Revolution, Bushnell was presented a medal by George Washington.
After peace was declared he returned to Connecticut then later traveled to France and then settled in Warrenton, Georgia where he taught at the Warrenton Academy and practiced medicine. He died in Georgia in 1824.
Bushnell’s Basin & the Erie Canal
The Erie Canal was one of the most important engineering and economic development feats in history.
In the early 1820’s the Erie made a profound impact on Hartwell’s (now Bushnell’s) Basin. On the main stagecoach route connecting the Falls of the Genesee at Rochester and the village of Canandaigua, the basin played a key role.
One of the most difficult engineering feats in the construction of the canal was an artificial ridge one mile long and 75’ high constructed over the Irondequoit Creek and Valley, about 1 ½ miles northwest of Richardson’s. The work, in the days of pick, shovel, oxen, and mules, took more than a year and a half to complete. From about 1820–1822 Hartwell’s Basin became the western terminus of the Erie while the Great Embankment was being built.
Prior to the Erie Canal project a young American went to England at his own expense to study and record the lock and lift mechanisms of the English waterways. Canvass White brought back to America a wealth of detail on construction methods for the first Erie Canal. White also developed the all important formula for hydraulic cement.
The original canal was a ditch approximately 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. It spans 363 miles with 18 aqueducts and 83 locks, the rise from the Hudson Rover to Lake Erie is 568 feet. Construction of “Clinton’s Big Ditch” began July 4, 1817 and was completed in 1825 at a cost of $7,143,760.
Today sections of the Erie are drained in winter to protect the walls from the abrasive action of ice pressure. The public towpath serves as one of the longest linear parks extant.
Currently several cruise lines ply the Erie and we look forward to the seasonal return of the Emita II, Sam Patch and others.
David Bushnell was an inventor and a veteran of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. His most notable invention was &ldquoThe Turtle,&rdquo a one-man submersible which became the first submarine to be used in active combat &ndash albeit unsuccessfully &ndash during the Revolutionary War. This feat left a lasting impression on his peers, including General Washington, who dubbed Bushnell&rsquos work &ldquoan effort of genius.&rdquo 1
Bushnell was born on August 30, 1740, in Saybrook, Connecticut, to farmers Nehemiah and Sarah Bushnell. A keen mechanic, he used his inheritance to enroll in Yale College at the relatively old age of 31. At Yale, Bushnell conducted experiments into gunpowder. Convinced he could explode it underwater, he successfully detonated two ounces and later two pounds of gunpowder in this manner. After refining these experiments, Bushnell focused on inventing a submarine to carry these mines underwater. In early 1775, Bushnell built his submarine with his brother Ezra on Poverty Island in the Connecticut River. Around this time, Yale began to form Revolutionary regiments and declared its allegiance to the Second Continental Congress &ndash something which helped to shape Bushnell&rsquos allegiances.
After graduating in July 1775, Bushnell returned to Poverty Island to test his now-complete submarine. Throughout the summer, Bushnell conducted multiple successful tests of the submarine with help from fellow Yale graduate Dr. Benjamin Gale. Gale lauded the Turtle to Benjamin Franklin, who visited Bushnell and his invention in October 1775 en route to General George Washington&rsquos Boston camp. Meetings like this one likely brought Bushnell&rsquos machine to the attention of the Continental Army and Congress. By February 1776, Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut agreed to provide £60 to Bushnell for the production of his invention. 2 The most detailed description of the Turtle is found attached in a 1787 letter from Bushnell to Thomas Jefferson:
&ldquoThe external shape of the sub-marine vessel bore some resemblance to two upper tortoise shells of equal size, joined together the place of entrance into the vessel being represented by the opening made by the swell of the shells, at the head of the animal.&rdquo 3
By the spring of 1776, Bushnell was eager to test the Turtle in battle after winter ice had prevented access to the British fleet in Boston. However, the plan was further delayed when the British fleet moved south to New York in July 1776. Due to British success in New York, Washington decided that the Continental Army needed to act as soon as possible and met Bushnell to arrange the transport of his Turtle to Long Island. After arriving in New York, Ezra Bushnell, who had trained for months to pilot the vessel, fell ill, leaving the Turtle to be piloted by the inexperienced Sergeant Ezra Lee.
After some basic training, Lee set out at midnight on September 6, 1776, with the flagship HMS Eagle as his target. Lee was able to sail underwater up to the ship&rsquos hull, but he accidentally struck an iron bar on the underside, which the Turtle could not penetrate. After this failure, Lee&rsquos inexperience as a submarine pilot showed. He failed to reattempt drilling and lost control of the Turtle, losing sight of the Eagle. 4 By the time he found it, sunrise was underway and so Lee fled. Upon passing Governor&rsquos Island, he feared he was seen and detached the mine. One hour later it exploded in the East River, proving that Bushnell&rsquos mines worked, although the mission had failed.
In late September 1776, Lee set out for another attempt on three British frigates anchored near Fort Washington, this time targeting the sterns at water level. This mission was also a failure, and on October 9, the three frigates &ndash the Phoenix, Roebuck and Tartar &ndash sailed through a blockade outside Fort Washington and fired on American ships, sinking the sloop carrying the Turtle. Bushnell salvaged it and brought the vessel back to his farm. However, his time in the Continental Army had rendered him extremely ill and this, combined with a lack of military funding, meant the Turtle was never used again.
Bushnell continued to work with the Continental Army. Despite the Turtle&rsquos failures, his expertise with underwater mines was invaluable. Bushnell tried another attack on August 13, 1777, using two large mines to encircle and attach to the British frigate Cerberus however, one destroyed a nearby schooner first, alerting the British, who avoided the second mine.
In fall 1777, Bushnell relocated to Bordentown, New Jersey, on the banks of the Delaware River, close to a British naval fleet. Here he developed mines out of kegs, which could float down the river and were spring-loaded to detonate on contact. The barrels were floated down the Delaware River in late December 1777 and reached Philadelphia and the British fleet there on January 5, 1778. Ice on the river had caused all British ships to retreat to wharves, and the only ships hit were a two-man rowboat and a civilian barge. This caught the attention of the British who pummeled the river with cannon-shot, destroying all of the barrels and celebrating their victory in &ldquoThe Battle of the Kegs.&rdquo By the spring of 1788, the Continental Congress agreed to fund further production of barrels. However, the chance to strike again was not forthcoming for Bushnell, as by early 1779 the British were poised to invade Connecticut.
On May 6, 1779, Bushnell was captured in Middlesex, Connecticut, but the British were unaware of his true identity. Through the efforts of Israel Putnam, nine American and nine British prisoners were traded on May 13, including Bushnell. Now aware of the benefits of Continental Army support, he joined the Corps of Sappers and Miners, an engineering division, and became one of three captain-lieutenants in August 1779. 5 The work of the Sappers and Miners involved building roads and setting up and manning batteries &ndash including the battery that fired upon Benedict Arnold as he fled West Point. They occasionally saw battle &ndash for example, in the Marquis de Lafayette&rsquos failed capture of Arnold in February 1781. On June 9, 1781, Bushnell was promoted to captain. Continuing their work building infrastructure for the Continental Army, the Sapper and Miners were transported to Yorktown later that year, where they were responsible for digging the American trenches. Some of Bushnell&rsquos Sappers and Miners even fought under Alexander Hamilton in the crucial capture of Redoubt 10, where they were helpful in cutting through its fortifications. Bushnell&rsquos company performed menial tasks until 1783, when he was discharged and reimbursed £150 by the Connecticut government.
After the war, David Bushnell was a founding member of the Connecticut branch of the Society of the Cincinnati. 6 Thomas Jefferson wrote to several contemporaries, including General Washington, eager for an account of Bushnell&rsquos work. However, nobody could provide a detailed enough report on Bushnell&rsquos experiments until Bushnell himself replied in 1787, sending an account which was read to and later published by the American Philosophical Society. However, this communication with Jefferson was the last of Bushnell&rsquos interactions with key Revolutionary figures, as he slipped into obscurity. It was rumored that he had traveled to France for work, but no records of this exist. Bushnell disappeared until one David Bush settled in Columbia County, Georgia, in 1790 before moving to Warrenton, Georgia, where he was a physician until his death in 1826. In his 1820 will, he bequeathed all possessions to George Hargraves, revealed that he was in fact David Bushnell, and asked Hargraves to find heirs of his siblings to inherit his estate.
David Bushnell&rsquos contributions to the Revolutionary War and to submarine technology are considerable. His ideas for a screw propeller and to use water as ballast are both still used today. He invented the first working weaponized submarine and was the father of naval mine warfare. The US Navy named two submarine tenders in his honor in 1915 and 1942, the second of which saw active service in World War II. Bushnell has a memorial to his achievements in the cemetery at Warrenton, Georgia, where he is buried.
George Washington University
1. &ldquoFrom George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 26 September 1785,&rdquo Founders Online, last modified June 13th, 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-03-02-0251
2. Charles T. Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, Volume 15 (Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood and Brainard, 1890), 233-36.
3. David Bushnell, &ldquoGeneral Principles and Construction of a Sub-Marine Vessel, Communicated by D. Bushnell of Connecticut, the Inventor, in a Letter of October 1787, to Thomas Jefferson&rdquo, from Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 1799, Volume 4, 303. Accessed September 3rd, 2018. url: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1005110?seq=10#metadata_info_tab_contents
4. David Bushnell, &ldquoExperiments made with a sub-marine vessel,&rdquo in The Weekly Inspector Volume 2: From Feb. 28th to Aug. 22nd, 1807 (New York: Hopkins & Seymour, 1807), 343-44.
5. David Bushnell, &ldquoA Return of the Officers and Privates in the Corps of Sappers and Miners Belonging to the State of Connecticut, July 8 th , 1780,&rdquo The Society of the Cincinnati Library, Washington, DC.
6. &ldquoCapt. David Bushnell&rdquo, The Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Connecticut, last modified 2018, http://theconnecticutsociety.org/bushnell-david/
&ldquoCapt. David Bushnell.&rdquo The Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Connecticut. Last modified 2018. http://theconnecticutsociety.org/bushnell-david/
Diamant, Lincoln. Dive! The Story of David Bushnell and His Remarkable 1776 Submarine. New York: Purple Mountain Press, 2003.
Wagner, Frederick. Submarine Fighter of the American Revolution. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1963.
The Inside Story of Pong and the Early Days of Atari
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The original Pong engineer didn't fix a bug that kept the paddles from reaching the top of the screen, since it meant that a ball could slip above or below the player’s reach, making for a more challenging game. Alamy
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Al Alcorn knew he was being wooed. Nolan Bushnell, the tall, brash, young engineer from Alcorn’s work-study days at Ampex, had shown up at Alcorn’s Sunnyvale office. Bushnell was driving a new blue station wagon. “It’s a company car,” he said with feigned nonchalance. He offered to drive Alcorn, recently hired as an associate engineer at Ampex, to see the “game on a TV screen” that Bushnell and Ted Dabney had developed at their new startup company.
The two men drove to an office in Mountain View, near the highway. The space was large, about 10,000 square feet, and looked like a cross between an electronics lab and an assembly warehouse. Oscilloscopes and lab benches filled one area. Half-built cabinets and screen with wires protruding from them sat in another.
Bushnell walked with Alcorn to a sinuous, six-foot-tall fiberglass cabinet with a screen at eye level. Bushnell was proud of what he called its “spacey-looking” shape. He had designed it in modeling clay, and Dabney had found a swimming pool manufacturer willing to cast the design in brightly colored fiberglass. The cabinet housed a shoot-em-up-in-outer-space fantasy game called Computer Space. But Alcorn paid the lovely cabinet no attention, aside from noting the vague stink of the fiberglass. He thought the most interesting feature of this, the first videostygame he had ever seen, was Bushnell and Dabney’s decision to use an off-the-shelf television set as a screen. Had they asked him, he would have said that the thirteen-inch black-and-white General Electric model with balky wiring would be most useful for starting fires.
Watching Bushnell demonstrate the game, Alcorn grew excited. Computer Space was based on an iconic game called Spacewar!, written in 1963 by an informal group at MIT led by Steve Russell. Across the country, programmers played and constantly modified Spacewar! on time-sharing machines in fledgling computer science departments. Most technical people who saw Spacewar! were entranced by its computing implications: it demonstrated that a computer could draw on a screen, calculate trajectories, and detect when a ship was hit.
But Alcorn knew that there was no computer inside Bushnell and Dabney’s Computer Space, even if the promotional literature bragged of a “Computer (Brain Box).” Computers were far too expensive to use in a scenario like this one. Something else must be controlling the patterns and movement on the screen. Alcorn wanted to know what.
He opened the cabinet, glanced at the wiring, and fell in love. Bushnell and Dabney had tweaked the dedicated logic circuits within the wiring of the television so that they could produce the same effects as the time-sharing computer in the original Spacewar! game. “A very, very clever trick,” Alcorn called it. Without a computer, without software, without a frame buffer, a microprocessor, or even memory chips beyond a few flip-flops, Bushnell and Dabney had made a dot appear and move on the screen. Even to Alcorn, who had repaired televisions since he was a teenager and was now working on high-resolution displays at Ampex, the trick seemed “almost impossible.”
Leslie Berlin is Project Historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University. She has been a “Prototype” columnist for the New York Times, a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, and a member of the advisory committee to the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Alcorn had a gush of questions. Bushnell waited for him to calm down. Then he offered Alcorn a job at $1,000 per month and 10 percent of the startup company that he and Dabney had each kicked in $350 to launch. Bushnell and Dabney called their company Syzygy (a word that refers to the alignment of three celestial bodies) but soon renamed it Atari, after discovering that another company had incorporated under the name Syzygy. In Bushnell and Dabney’s favorite game, Go, “Atari” means roughly the same thing as “Check” in chess. Or, as Bushnell later chose to define it, “Atari means you are about to be engulfed.”
Syzygy, the soon-to-be Atari, designed games for manufacturers such as the pinball giant Bally to manufacture and sell. Syzygy had designed Computer Space, Bushnell explained, but a small operation called Nutting Associates, which owned the office in which they were standing, was manufacturing it. Bushnell and Dabney’s chutzpah impressed Alcorn almost as much as the electronic trick. He had never known anyone who had left a job at a big company to start a new business, as Bushnell and Dabney had left Ampex. (Memorex had spun out of Ampex in 1961, before Alcorn’s time there.) The move felt right, though, he thought—another way in which young, bright people were writing new rules for themselves in the wake of the 1960s. Then again, the salary Bushnell was offering was a 17 percent cut from Alcorn’s Ampex paycheck. The 10 percent ownership stake, he figured, was worthless since Atari would probably fail.
Alcorn’s then girlfriend (and future wife), Katie, encouraged him to “take a chance on a flyer.” After all, they had no kids and no mortgage. And if, as Alcorn predicted, Syzygy/Atari failed, he would find another job at one of the many businesses in and around Mountain View that were hiring electrical engineers.
In the end, Alcorn, the careful adventurer, decided that he “had nothing to lose” by joining Bushnell and Dabney. “Life is short,” he thought. It was time to create his own chances.
When Alcorn reported to work at Atari’s newly rented offices on Scott Boulevard in Sunnyvale, he learned that Bushnell’s entrepreneurial risk taking that had so impressed him was a sham. Though it was true that Bushnell had launched the startup company with Dabney, he had done so with a safety net that Alcorn did not have: he was a full-time salaried employee at Nutting Associates, the company that licensed and built Computer Space. Bushnell’s salary was higher than what he had earned at Ampex—and on top of it, he had negotiated licensing fees from Nutting as an independent contractor.
Bushnell had told his wife that he would be running his own company within two years of coming to California. He decided to consider the Nutting job “kind of a rounding error” that he could “edit out of conversations” when he talked about his new videogame business. “Entrepreneur” sounded “more glamorous,” he later explained when asked why he had not told Alcorn about his job with Nutting. Appearances mattered to Bushnell his first hire at Atari was a receptionist, his children’s seventeen-year-old babysitter, whom he told to place all callers on hold with a promise to “see if Mr. Bushnell or Mr. Dabney was available,” even if the men were right in front of her. Years later, he would call his early success in business “a matter of being enthusiastic and glib.”
Alcorn soon learned about a second misdirection. Bushnell and Dabney had built Computer Space using spare Ampex parts. Before Alcorn had joined Atari, he had asked if the cofounders had offered the game to Ampex, which likely had rights to it. Bushnell had assured him that Ampex had turned down the offer. Now Alcorn learned that Bushnell had never offered Computer Space to Ampex. (“I may have told Al that I did [approach Ampex],” Bushnell told me. Bushnell’s boss, Kurt Wallace, who would have been the one to receive the licensing offer at Ampex, told me that no such offer was made.)
Soon Bushnell misled Alcorn a third time, though Alcorn would not know it for weeks. Bushnell told his new engineer to build a Ping-Pong game for a contract with General Electric. He described how he wanted the game to look, specifying details down to the line dividing the screen and the rectangular paddles on either side. The game needed to be cheap, he said, and ideally, it would contain no more than 20 chips. It needed to use the clever video-positioning technique that Alcorn so admired.
Alcorn, determined to impress General Electric, drove to a department store on El Camino Real and bought its best black-and-white television. Back at the office, he designed segmented paddles, with each segment sending the ball careening back at a different angle. The sync generator inside the television, he discovered, already contained certain tones, and with a bit of manipulation, he came up with a satisfying pong sound when the ball hit the paddle. He configured the game so that play would speed up after a few rallies. He decided not to try to fix a bug that kept the paddles from reaching the top of the screen, since it meant that a ball could slip above or below even the most skilled player’s reach, making for a more challenging game. When Alcorn went to the founders for additional ideas, Bushnell pushed for sounds of crowds cheering for good shots. Dabney suggested boos and jeers for misses. It was a perfect encapsulation of the differences in the two men: Bushnell all enthusiasm, Dabney more guarded.
After only three months, Alcorn had a working prototype of the game, which either he or Bushnell named Pong. (When asked in 2016 who had come up with the name, Alcorn and Bushnell each pointed at the other.) Alcorn thought the game played well, but he worried that he had failed in his assignment. With more than 70 chips, rather than the 20 Bushnell had requested, there was no way the game would meet General Electric’s specifications.
Telling Bushnell that Pong was finished but too complex, Alcorn offered to redesign it. Bushnell suggested that they play. He had played the game while Alcorn was developing it, but this time, he grew increasingly excited with each rally. Pong was a “great game,” he declared. The phrase had a specific meaning for Bushnell: easy to learn but hard to master. When Alcorn again worried aloud that General Electric might reject the game due to its high chip count, Bushnell seemed to smile to himself.
Then he let Alcorn in on a secret: there was no General Electric contract. Bushnell had lied. Pong was an in-house exercise that Bushnell had thought would help Alcorn master the video-positioning trick.
Alcorn was surprised but not angry. He would feel the same way three years later when he learned that Bushnell had been able to describe the Ping-Pong game he wanted in such fine detail because he was describing a table tennis game sold by Magnavox for its Odyssey system. In essence, he had assigned Alcorn to reproduce the Magnavox game. “It’s like the movie The Producers, you know?” Alcorn reminisced years later. “We’re going to steal this idea from Magnavox, but it’s a turkey so what’s the problem? [But] all of a sudden it’s a success.” (Magnavox later sued Atari for patent infringement, eventually settling out of court.)
Bushnell’s misdirections and exaggerations freed Alcorn to achieve technical feats he otherwise would have talked himself out of attempting. “‘It can’t be done! You don’t want to do that!’: I used to say that a lot in my life,” Alcorn later explained. “I fortunately had Nolan to goad me into doing it anyway.” Alcorn, who had the technical skills to build just about anything but was not a dreamer as a young man, needed someone like Bushnell to spark and channel his talent. Bushnell recorded so many new ideas every day that little sheets of paper covered in his scrawled hand-writing regularly dropped from his pockets.
And Bushnell, with his nearly limitless imagination and more limited technical ability, needed Alcorn to help realize his visions. “Nolan is a dreamer,” Alcorn says. “I get the dirty end of the stick and have to make these things happen.”
Far from the elegant sculpted fiberglass that encased Computer Space, Pong’s cabinet was a simple wooden box painted orange, with two silver knobs to control the on-screen paddles. A metal panel with P-O-N-G on the front offered the only nod to aesthetics. Onto the side of the box, Dabney welded a coin slot of the sort used in Laundromats and kiddie rides.
Alcorn connected the prototype board to the black-and-white television, shoved the entire contraption into Dabney’s cabinet, and drove with the founders to a nearby bar. Andy Capp’s Tavern was dim, smoky, and, like many bars in Sunnyvale in the summer of 1972, notable only for cheap beer and pinball machines. Bushnell and Dabney knew the owner. Atari ran a small side business servicing pinball machines for a percentage of the take, and Andy Capp’s was a customer.
The three Atari employees plunked Pong down on a decorative barrel. It was not much to look at, particularly next to the slickly packaged, blinging and flashing pinball machines and the beautiful Computer Space Bushnell had convinced the bar owner to put on the floor.
Nonetheless, two guys soon separated themselves from the crowd of muttonchopped men at the pinball machines and began inspecting Pong. After a minute, one man dropped a quarter into the coin box.
The prototype Pong had no directions, but the players figured it out. They seemed to enjoy their few minutes of playing, their heads pushed together in front of the screen.
When the game ended, they did not put in another quarter. They walked away.
Bushnell stood up. He had to go talk to those guys, he said. He wanted to know how they’d liked the game. Alcorn followed him across the bar.
Bushnell said hello to Pong’s first-ever paying customers and then, nodding toward the game and keeping his voice neutral, asked, “What do you think of that?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve played these things before,” one player replied. “I know the guys who built these things.”
No one corrected him. There was some satisfaction in having built a game so cool that people were pretending to have a connection to it. “Watching people play your game,” Bushnell later explained, “is like getting a standing ovation.”
About a week later, the bar’s manager called Alcorn. There was something wrong with the Pong machine. Alcorn drove over in his secondhand ’63 Cadillac Fleetwood and was greeted inside the bar by a small group of Pong fans. Explaining that he would need to play a few games to diagnose the problem, Alcorn bent to unlock the coin box so he could throw the inside switch that would grant unlimited free games.
As soon as he pulled the door open, he saw the quarters. Coins had filled the coffee can that served as a coin box and overflowed onto the wooden floor of the cabinet. There had to be $100 in quarters. Pong had not been starting because the coin box was too full to trip the start mechanism.
Alcorn swept up Atari’s half of the take and handed the manager the balance and a business card. “Next time this happens, you call me at home right away. I can always fix this one,” Alcorn promised. His immediate solution was to replace the coffee can with a larger receptacle: a milk carton.
The next step was to build a few more prototype machines and send them to other bars for testing before deciding on the exact features to include in the final version of the game. Dabney found a local shop, P. S. Hurlbut in Santa Clara, to build a freestanding tall cabinet to house the game’s screen and components. Alcorn drove over to Andy Capp’s to get a clearer sense of the demands Pong faced. He counted the coins that had been deposited through the coin slot. If each quarter represented 20 or 30 turns of a knob, Pong needed a potentiometer that could rotate a million times in three months without failing. He set about to find one.
Bushnell, meanwhile, worried about game play. He told Alcorn that the game needed instructions. Alcorn thought that was absurd. The players at Andy Capp’s had figured it out, hadn’t they? But again he decided to play along. He wrote three commands to appear on the game’s faceplate:
• Ball will serve automatically
• Avoid missing ball for high score
Within a few weeks, 10 bars had Pong games. Alcorn, Bushnell, and Dabney were confident that they had built machines that could survive semi-intoxicated players with sloshing beer cups, but they had underestimated the abuse that the games would face. Players chucked pool balls at the cabinets, figuring that if a certain spot were hit just right, the reward would be a free game. The machines shorted out when they were shaken, or even just played often, because quarters would fall on the printed circuit board under the coin mechanism.
Even well-intentioned bar owners broke the Pongs. The owners were accustomed to pinball machines with mechanical relays, flippers, and lights that could be fixed with a screwdriver or a file. If a Pong machine was not loud enough or the screen not bright enough, the bar owners would open the back and start looking for something to adjust. More often than not, they settled on an appealingly accessible dial—and began turning, not realizing it was the game’s external power supply. Every prototype came back to Atari with the power blown. Despite the problems, the Pong machines brought in some $150 per week, roughly three to five times as much as the typical pinball machine. The game was simultaneously intuitive (turn knob, move paddle) and astonishing in 1972, when most Americans had only seen screens display images sent from a broadcast network or projected from slides or a reel of film. Pong was different. It was interactive, viewer-commanded television. Bushnell would grow accustomed to people asking how the television networks sensed that Pong’s knobs had been rotated.
Alcorn began hearing stories of lines outside the bars at nine in the morning—not to drink but to play what Alcorn sometimes called “this stupid Pong game.” In Berkeley, Steve Bristow, an engineering student who had done the same Ampex rotation program as Alcorn (and who had helped build Computer Space using Ampex parts) worked part-time for Atari, maintaining pinball machines and collecting Atari’s weekly take.
He began to fear for his safety after Pong was installed at a bar on his route and his canvas bags earmarked for Atari swelled to hold some $1,000 in quarters. When the police refused to issue him a gun permit, he scared up a novel mode of protection: the hatchet he had used in a previous job roofing houses. He gave his wife the hatchet to carry while he walked behind her with the heavy money bags. “Even in Berkeley, people would part for a crazy woman with hatchet,” he said with satisfaction.
The success of the prototype Pongs lit a fire under Bushnell and Dabney. “We got hit in the ass by lightning with Pong. Holey moley!” Alcorn says. Atari rushed into large-scale manufacturing.
Bushnell had never run a company, but he possessed a number of gifts that would serve him well as an executive. He carried himself like a leader. “I expect one day to be working for him,” his Ampex boss had written on Bushnell’s evaluation. Bushnell’s monumental enthusiasm, which led one early videogame journalist to call him “about the most excited person I’ve ever seen over the age of six when it came to describing a new game,” would also inspire customers and Atari employees. Bushnell loved games of all sorts he even created them out of everyday circumstances. One former Atari employee says, “If there were two flies on the wall, Nolan would be betting on which fly would take off before the other one.”
But Bushnell was alone. He had no mentors, no venture capitalist backing him, no business school professors or consultants watching over his shoulder. There were no videogame industry leaders to ask for help or analysts to measure Atari’s performance against its competitors’. Atari had an attorney who had helped with the incorporation but did not seem useful for much more. Dabney knew no more about business than Bushnell, and Alcorn knew even less.