Bar Code Inventor Dead at the Ripe Age of 91

He passed away due to complications from Alzheimer's disease

By Sebastian Pop on December 14th, 2012 13:43 GMT

It is a sad fact of life that many great people meet their end due to diseases, and that Alzheimer's seems to be so widespread among the old folk. Even the inventor of the bar code fell to it.

This is the newest topic of discussion among certain circles of erudite people: the man who invented the bar code is now dead.

Joseph Woodland had a partner back in 1952, Bernard Silver by name. Together, they fulfilled the request of the head of a supermarket chain.

The request was for help in developing a better way to keep track of inventory. The bar code was the result.

The idea was patented back in 1952, just eight years before the death of Bernard Silver, which left Woodland to go on with his engineering activities on his own.

The idea for the bar code was sold to Philco, an electronics company, also in 1952, for $15,000 / 11,464 Euro.

It was a fine sum at the time, but it seems small now, especially when taking into account that the Universal Product Code that is now used everywhere earned Woodland the National Medal of Technology in 1992.

"He knew the technology didn't exist at the moment, but that it would exist," said Susan Woodland, the man's daughter.

"It was really fun the first couple of years when I was in college in the '70s, seeing grocery store chains start to adopt it. Nobody understood what the numbers were and how the bars were read."

In addition to his greatest invention, Joseph Woodland is known for his tenure with IBM, where he worked for about 35 years as a mechanical engineer, until he retired in 1987. The scanner capable of reading bar codes, invented in the 1970s, also had him on the development team.

Mr. Woodland died at the age of 91 in New Jersey and is survived by his wife (61) and two daughters, plus a granddaughter and a brother.
Joseph Woodland
   Joseph Woodland