N. Joseph Woodland was 91
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N. Joseph Woodland, the co-inventor of the bar code, died this week at an assisted-living facility in Edgewater where he had been living with his wife the past six years, family members said Thursday.
Mr. Woodland, 91, came up with the idea for the bar code, now used to store information on almost every product sold in stores or online, as he drew lines in the sand on a beach in Miami 64 years ago, said one of his daughters, Susan Woodland, who lives in New York City.
He and his partner, Bernard Silver, who died in the 1960s, patented the idea in 1952 and later shared $15,000 when they sold the rights to Philco, an electronics company, she said.
Mr. Woodland, who grew up in Atlantic City, died Sunday at Sunrise Senior Living in Edgewater from complications caused by Alzheimer's disease, Susan Woodland said. A funeral was held earlier this week in South Jersey, near where he grew up, she said.
A mechanical engineer, Mr. Woodland worked for IBM for more than 35 years, for much of that time in North Carolina, and retired in 1987. He was part of a team that developed a laser scanner capable of reading bar codes during the 1970s.
When Mr. Woodland and Silver invented bar codes, the technology did not exist to read them, and computers were in their infancy. "He knew the technology didn't exist at the moment, but that it would exist," Susan Woodland said.
Mr. Woodland and Silver, who were teaching at Drexel University in Philadelphia, began the work that led to bar codes after the head of a supermarket chain approached their dean, asking whether the school's engineers could help him keep track of inventory. The dean wasn't interested in the problem, Susan Woodland said.
She said her father left his job and went to Miami to stay with his father in 1948 while he considered a solution. As a former Boy Scout, he knew Morse Code, and thought it could be used to help track inventory. or a code to track inventory.
One day, his daughter said, he was drawing dots and dashes of Morse Code in the sand and pulled his arm back, creating parallel lines, some thick and others thin. She said that became the basis for the bar code, now known as a Universal Product Code.
"He knew that could be a code that could be read and stored in a computer," Susan Woodland said.
Mr. Woodland was given the National Medal of Technology in 1992 and inducted into the national inventor's hall of fame last year, according to his daughter.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Jacqueline Blumberg, two daughters, a granddaughter and a brother. One of his daughters, Betsy Karpenkopf, and her daughter, Ella, live in Israel.
Published in The Record on Dec. 14, 2012