A Wells Fargo historian shares how the company’s funding of Silicon Valley enterprises began with an Atari video game.

Where Atari got game

A Wells Fargo historian shares how the company’s funding of Silicon Valley enterprises began with a video game.

August 11, 2017
Charles Riggs
Charles Riggs

Charles Riggs is a Wells Fargo historian, primarily concerned with the digital presentation of the company’s rich heritage.

In the 1970s, groundbreaking desktop and personal computers were hitting the market, the PC modem was invented, and the year’s top movies featured special effects marvels. The technology industry was hot and was starting to resemble “tech” as we understand it today — featuring advanced capabilities and household devices that were available for everyday use.

At that time, Atari was already a success. Started in 1972 by wunderkind Nolan Bushnell, the company introduced the home version of their popular video game “Pong®.” Getting capital was a challenge for many in the blossoming tech industry, but Wells Fargo recognized the potential — and Atari’s sound management — and established a Special Industries group to provide business advice and financing to Silicon Valley companies.

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell when he was in a 1977 feature for Wells Fargo Banker.
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell in a 1977 feature for Wells Fargo Banker.

A line of credit from Wells Fargo financed production of early Atari products, and cartridges of “Pong” flew off retail shelves, creating the first video gaming sensation.

Atari was ready, in 1973, to expand its reach with a variety of arcade games, but needed increased capital to fund the growth. Wells Fargo continued to provide financial assistance, and Atari developed more than 30 video games by the middle of the year, including “Canyon Bomber®,” “Destroyer,” “Subs,” “Triple Hunt,” and multiplayer versions of “Sprint.”

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and J. Kerrins, from the tech group, surrounded by Atari products in 1977.
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and J. Kerrins, from Wells Fargo's Special Industries group, surrounded by Atari video games in 1977.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Wells Fargo for helping us get started,” Bushnell said in a 1977 feature for Wells Fargo Banker, the company’s periodical at the time. “I’ve been focused on those things I’ve wanted to do. Money has been the vehicle that has allowed me to do them.”

Innovation has motivated Wells Fargo’s business since 1852. From the iconic stagecoach, to paving the way with early use of the telegraph and ATM, to the current advancements in mobile banking, the company continues to have an eye for cutting-edge technology.

Wells Fargo’s San Francisco History Museum features an Atari “Pong®” game for the home.
Wells Fargo’s San Francisco History Museum features an Atari “Pong®” game for the home.

An Atari “Pong” game for the home is on display in the San Francisco History Museum. It is set up and ready for two players to give it a go!

Learn more about the history of Wells Fargo and its 12 free history museums.

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