You might not immediately recognize the name of Norman Joseph Woodland, but it is safe to say that you are very familiar with his work. He was one of the inventors of the bar code, the zebra-like series of lines that is on most, if not all, product packaging. It is the code that the cashier scans whenever you make a purchase.
The concept of using a series of lines and spaces came to him one day as he was on a beach in Miami, Florida. He used his fingers to draw four lines into the sand, and realized that he could use bars of different thickness and thinness instead of dots and dashes.
He was a graduate student at the time and was working with a classmate named Bernard Silver, (who died in 1963). In 1949, the two submitted their patent for a code that had concentric circles and resembled a bull’s eye. The patent was issued in 1952.
The technology for the now familiar bar code didn’t exist until the 1970′s. A team at IBM’s Research Triangle Park, in North Carolina, were the ones to develop a barcode-reading laser scanner system. N. Joseph Woodland was part of that team. The decision to create it was to satisfy a demand from grocers who were seeking a way to automate and speed up checkout (while, at the same time, cutting down on product handling and inventory management costs).
Norman Joseph Woodland, the man behind the “beeps” you hear when you are watching the cashier scan your purchase, died at the age of 91. You may not have known his name, but you saw his invention every day.
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