The National Inventors Hall of Fame today announced it will induct retired IBMer (NYSE: IBM) Norman Joseph Woodland for his contribution to the invention of the Universal Product Code (UPC). The UPC has become the world's most pervasive inventory tracking tool and has transformed the way consumers shop, how businesses and retailers manage inventory -- from large industrial equipment to canned goods sold in grocery stores.
IBM now has 12 members in the prestigious National Inventors Hall of Fame. They have been honored for a variety of seminal inventions ranging from LASIK Eye Surgery to the Scanning Tunneling Microscope, used to obtain atomic-scale images of the surface of metals.
"2011 is IBM's 100th anniversary, and inventors such as Joseph Woodland have pioneered many breakthroughs that have transformed the way we work and live," said Dr. Mark Dean, IBM Fellow, vice president of Technical Strategy for IBM Research and a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame since 1997 for his invention that paved the way for the personal computer. "Through their determination, and the unwavering pursuit of progress, IBM inventors are making the world a better place for us today and in the future."
Woodland and his co-inventor, Bernard Silver, who also will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, were working at Drexel University when they applied for the first bar code technology patent on October 20, 1949. Woodland joined IBM in 1951 and received a patent for the invention on October 7, 1952. The technology went undeveloped for more than two decades because, at the time, there was no way to read the code, until the laser became a practical tool.
In the early 1970s, Woodland worked with a team of IBMers that developed a system that used a laser scanner to digitally read a bar code derived from his original invention. At that time, an American grocery industry task force was evaluating standards that would enable supermarkets to automate and speed checkout at stores, as well as drive down costs associated with handling and managing inventory.
The grocery task force eventually settled on a standard that very closely paralleled IBM's approach and, in 1973, IBM became one of the earliest vendors to market a point-of-sale system with a checkout scanner that could read the UPC symbol based on Woodland's invention. The first UPC scan occurred on June 26, 1974 when a shopper by the name of Clyde Dawson purchased a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum from cashier Sharon Buchanan at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The scan was successful, and the gum rang up at 67 cents.
By 1980, the number of grocery stores using the UPC technology jumped to more than 2,200. UPC codes are now used worldwide by all kinds of organizations, schools, universities and companies in all industries to leverage the power of data and information management to organize and run their operations. In many countries, almost every item purchased in a retail store has a UPC code on it, resulting in bar codes being scanned billions of times each day.
The UPC represents one of the earliest forms of "instrumentation," through which objects are embedded with a code that enables people to collect data from these embedded objects and analyze the available information to make better, more informed decisions. In the future, the improvements UPC has delivered to society will be advanced by radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which use wireless networking technology to capture data and yield new insights that can change the way products and services are marketed, sold and consumed.
Norman Joseph Woodland will be inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in a ceremony on May 4, 2011.
Other IBMers in the Inventors Hall of Fame are:
* Louis Stevens: Data Storage Machine, inducted 2008
* William Goddard: Magnetic Disk Drive, inducted 2007
* John Lynott: Magnetic Disk Drive, inducted 2007
* Samuel Blum: LASIK Eye Surgery, inducted 2002
* Rangaswamy Srinivasan: LASIK Eye Surgery, inducted 2002
* Jim Wynne: LASIK Eye Surgery, inducted 2002
* Mark Dean: Microcomputer System with Bus Control Means for Peripheral Processing Devices, inducted 1997
* Dennis Moeller: Microcomputer System with Bus Control Means for Peripheral Processing Devices, inducted 1997
* Robert Heath Dennard: Field-Effect Transistor Memory DRAM, inducted 1997
* Gerd Karl Binnig: Scanning Tunneling Microscope, inducted 1994
* Heinrich Rohrer: Scanning Tunneling Microscope, inducted 1994
The National Inventors Hall of Fame, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing and honoring invention and creativity. The Hall of Fame honors the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible. The organization seeks to give these outstanding individuals the recognition they so rightly deserve as well as inspire future generations of innovators through the light of their examples.
For more information about Norman Joseph Woodland and other IBMers who have helped transform our world over the past 100 years, please visit IBM at 100.