Today we celebrate the life of N. Joseph Woodland, the inventor of the bar code. Mr. Woodland, 91, passed today. His idea for the bar code, patented 60 years ago, was inspired by his experience as a Boy Scout. He and a fellow graduate student, Bernard Silver, were motivated by the visit of a supermarket executive to the campus of Drexel University. He expressed a desire to automate the checkout process to reduce waiting times in the checkout lines. Woodland and Silver began working on the problem and came up with possible solutions. They knew they needed to develop some sort of code to represent products. Their original idea of using fluorescent inks failed, so it was back to the drawing board.
In the winter of 1948-49, Mr. Woodland was visiting his grandparents’ home in Miami Beach. He was sitting on a chair in the sand when history was made. As a former Boy Scout, he learned Morse code. In his words:
“What I’m going to tell you sounds like a fairy tale,” Mr. Woodland told Smithsonian magazine in 1999. “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.'”
That’s how it all started. And so today, Mr. Woodland, we celebrate your life and thank you for the way the bar code has changed all of our lives.– Tom Lehn, former Star Scout, Boy Scout Volunteer and Proud Father of an Eagle Scout