Video Game Cartridges

The History of Durable, Removable, and Portable Software

Authored by: Michael Thomasson

The Routledge Companion to Media Technology and Obsolescence

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138216266
eBook ISBN: 9781315442686
Adobe ISBN:


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The word “cartridge” is derived from the French word “cartouche”, and its origins stem from military applications dating back to the 1500s. The initial ammunition cartridges were nothing more than charges of gunpowder bundled for quick access, usually housed in waxed paper, linen, or even animal tissue. By the turn of the 17th century, ball and powder wrapped together were commonplace. New chemical concoctions improved the powder formula, while the idea of replacing the conventional spark with a hammer blow necessitated the introduction of metal tubes. This all led to the development of self-contained fire cartridges consisting of a metal case, a propellant charge, a projectile, and a primer—and forever changed the world. The cartridge concept was eventually employed into other facets of life such as camping stoves, washing machines, and ink and toner cartridges used for printing. It seemed to lend itself especially well to media applications, with radio stations using Fidelipac (a.k.a. NAB) cartridges for broadcasting in the 1950s. The concept stuck, and was adopted by magnetic tape media such as the Muntz Stereo-Pak (1954), 8-track tape (1964), compact cassette (1968), and dozens more . . . ultimately leading up to the video game cartridge.

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