Norman Woodland, co-inventor of bar code, dies at 91

Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:19am EST
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By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Norman Woodland, co-inventor of the bar code, the inventory tracking tool that transformed global commerce in the 1970s and saved shoppers countless hours on the supermarket checkout line, has died, his daughter said.

Woodland, 91, died Saturday from complications related to Alzheimer's disease in Edgewater, New Jersey, said Susan Woodland of New York.

Today, five billion products a day are scanned optically using the bar code, or Universal Product Code, or UPC, according to GS1 US, the American arm of the global UPC standards body.

The handheld laser scanner inventories consumer products, speeds passengers through airline gates, tracks mail, encodes medical patient information, and is in near universal use across transportation, industrial and shipping industries worldwide.

Susan Woodland said her father and co-inventor Bernard "Bob" Silver were graduate students at an engineering school in Philadelphia when they devised the idea of the bar code.

Silver overheard a supermarket executive asking the dean of the school - now Drexel University - to assign engineering students the task of creating an efficient way to inventory products at the checkout counter.

"My dad really liked to think about interesting problems," Susan Woodland said.

Woodland devised a code based on Morse code - a series of dots and dashes - that he had learned as a Boy Scout, she said.   Continued...