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Inventor of the barcode passes away

Inventor of the barcode passes away

THE death has taken place of the inventor Norman Joseph Woodland, who co-created the barcode system. He was 91.

Mr. Woodland developed the system along with Bernard Silver.

The pair had met at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia as grad students.

In 1948, Mr. Silver had apparently overheard a supermarket executive talking about the need for someone to come up with a way of capturing product information automatically at checkouts. The young student discussed the matter with his friend Woodland and the pair began to work on the problem.

Weeks later Mr. Woodland was sitting on a beach in Florida when he began to think how the Morse code was used to send information electronically. At one point he was drawing dots and dashes in the sand and then drew his fingers across the sand, forming four lines.

Looking at the lines, Mr. Woodland suddenly saw the beginning of an idea. He would later recall the moment: “I said, ‘Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes’.”

Woodland and Silver set to work and within months they had applied for a patent which was granted in 1952 and covered both linear and circular bullseye printing designs.

But the idea was years ahead of it time and without the availability of allied technology to make it feasible the pair decided to sell their patent to the Philco company for $15,000.

Philco then sold the patent to RCA who also attempted to make the Woodland and Silver invention commercially viable. But all attempts failed and the patent expired in 1969.

After this IBM, where Mr. Woodland worked, began taking an interest in the invention, encouraging it co-creator to refine the design into what was to be named the Universial Product Code.

It was UPC which was to win the day over RCA’s rival product and in 1974 the system was used for the first time in a supermarket. The shop was in Ohio and the first product scanned was a packet of chewing gum.

Today, the barcode system is used across the world with an estimated five billion items being scanned on a daily basis.

Woodland and Silver were inducted into the US National Inventors’ Hall of Fame in 2011.

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