Die Because of a Snake Bite in Oregon Trail? Thank a Minnesota Teacher
Another in a continuing series looking at Legendary Minnesotans, the people that make this state such a great place to live, work, and play in.
The Legendary Minnesotans this week are the three teachers who invented Oregon Trail. That's a right. 3 Minnesota teachers, and Minnesota tech company, gave us one of the most beloved video games in the history of the USA.
It's not sexy, it's not fancy, and as you're likely to die as you are to break a wagon wheel. But for some reason, hours and hours of gameplay did nothing to dull the love of Oregon Trail.
How did it come about? First, we start with the state...
According to Smithsonian Magazine,
Minnesota was a Midwestern Silicon Valley by the early 1970s. The State of Minnesota threw huge funds to entice computer programmers to Minneapolis and Saint Paul when it created Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1973. From 1978 to 1999, MECC, together with Apple, competed against private software companies to turn American children into a nation of computer-savvy early adopters and make computer class as much a part of American schooling as math and English.
Don Rawitsch was a student teacher in 1971. He was working with an 8th grade history class and wanted something that'd grab the attention of the students and teach them about what life really was like back in the Pioneer Days.
So he and a couple friends (fellow teachers Bill Heinemann and Paul Dillenberge) created Oregon Trail, loading it into the giant school system mainframe. When the class was done with the game, he deleted it and kept the paper printout of the code.
Again, from Smithsonian Magazine - "When MECC hired Rawitsch in 1974, the game had been a dormant pile of papers for three years. MECC set him to work resurrecting the game, and as he did, he added new features," doing a lot of research to find out what kinds of things would happen at the South Pass through the Rockies...like snow or an ox being injured. He was done with it in 1975, reuploaded it, and in 1978 it was retooled for Apple II's color screen.
In the long run, MECC was instrumental in getting Apples into Minnesota classrooms, and because of that, Oregon Trail spread across the country (without dying of dysentery, cholera, measles, or deciding to pay for the ferry or float your boat across the river yourself.
So thank you, Legendary Minnesotans Don Raawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberge. You created a game that was educational, thrilling, and, for the author (who didn't play it until he was 29 and volunteering at Elton Hills Elementary in Rochester), a hoot!
These Images of Oregon Trail (Invented In Minnesota) Should Bring Back Memories
The video clip and screenshots above, and in the album below, come from this gameplay video. WARNING - It ends before they all die / win!
As always, if you have a comment, complaint, or concern about something I wrote here, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pac Man doesn't have the same emotional connection as Oregon Trail, but people loved it like crazy!
Pac-Man Facts: 40 Easily Digestible Bits of Arcade-Game History
Other Articles from the Legendary Series
Legendary Minnesotan: The 9-Year-Old That Won A 10k By Mistake
Legend or Lie: Minnesota Used to Have Cold Case Playing Cards
Legendary Minnesotans - The Captured Confederate Flag We Won't Give Back
Minnesota Legend - The Inspector That Saved A Kid's Hot Dog Stand