Bar Code Inventor Dead at 91

N. Joseph Woodland and co-inventor made only $15K

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 13, 2012 2:40 PM CST

(Newser) – The New York Times has what must be the most interesting obituary of the day: that of 91-year-old N. Joseph Woodland, who invented the now-ubiquitous bar code with a colleague in the late 1940s. Among the tidbits:

  • Aha moment: It came while Woodland sat on the beach at his parents' Miami Beach home in the winter of 1948, thinking about how to adapt the Morse Code he learned as a Boy Scout. "What I’m going to tell you sounds like a fairy tale,” Woodland once told Smithsonian magazine. “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.’"

  • No riches: The invention was years ahead of its time, and Woodland and co-inventor Bernard Silver sold the patent for a relative pittance of $15,000.
  • Elevator music: As a young man, Woodland figured out how to provide elevator music efficiently, but his father forbade him from pursuing the idea commercially—because he feared the mob.
Read the full obituary here.

Bar codes are ubiquitous today.   (Shutterstock)
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