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
Bar codes are ubiquitous today.   (Shutterstock)

(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.

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Showing 3 of 22 comments
No-Left-Turn
Dec 13, 2012 7:01 PM CST
"Woodland and co-inventor Bernard Silver sold the patent for a relative pittance of $15,000." How sad. The value of this invention to society is in the billions. But, it's only a matter of time until bar codes are replaced by RFID.
wwwonderer
Dec 13, 2012 5:02 PM CST
Q: How do you ask someone if they are politically correct? A: U PC? We would have also accepted Code 39 and I 2 of 5.
NYUFan
Dec 13, 2012 4:31 PM CST
Check-out time.