US inventor of bar code Norman Joseph Woodland dies at 91

Barcode

The inventor of the bar code, that originated six decades ago and revolutionised product labelling, has died at the age of 91.

The product, originated on a beach when a mechanical-engineer-in-training named Norman Joseph Woodland with a transformative stroke of his fingers, yielding a set of literal lines in the sand, conceived the modern bar code.

Woodland died on Sunday, suffering from the effect Alzheimer's disease and complications of his advanced age in his home in Edgewater, New Jersey, a media report said.

His daughter, Susan Woodland, announced his death yesterday.

Woodland was a graduate student when he and a classmate, Bernard Silver, created a technology, based on a printed series of wide and narrow striations, that encoded consumer-product information for optical scanning.

Their idea, developed in the late 1940s and patented 60 years ago, turned out to be ahead of its time, and the two men together made only $15,000 from it.

But the curious round symbol they devised would ultimately give rise to the universal product code, or U.P.C., as the staggeringly prevalent rectangular bar code (it graces tens of millions of different items) is officially known.

Woodland was born in Atlantic City on September 6, 1921. As a Boy Scout he learned Morse code, the spark that would ignite his invention.

Woodland wondered one day, if Morse code, with its elegant simplicity and limitless combinatorial potential, were adapted graphically? He began trailing his fingers idly through the sand.

"What I'm going to tell you sounds like a fairy tale," Woodland told Smithsonian magazine in 1999. "I poked my four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason, I didn't know, I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines. I said: 'Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes'."

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