Norman Joseph Woodland, Barcode Inventor, Passes Away
It is clear that any company working in the barcode reading industry owes a huge debt of gratitude to Norman Woodland, since without barcodes there would be no need for barcode reading. As silly, and obvious, as that statement sounds it is only a small distance from the position Norman found himself in following the invention of the barcode in 1949. After working on the Manhattan Project during the war Norman moved his efforts to coming up with a code to contain product information which could be retrieved at checkout, basing his assumptions on the only code he knew, morse code. This led to the simple nature of the white and black bars, either wide or narrow.
The reason for the success of barcodes over recent decades is clear, it is a simple solution to a very complex problem. The versatility comes from the ability to link the code to a database meaning that a short string of numbers, encoded in a reliable fashion, can easily allow for access to large amounts of data. However it was not until 1974 that barcodes took off, so what happened to the 25 years inbetween? The answer is that for much of that time the barcode was there, but the barcode reader wasn’t. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that IBM, the company Norman Woodland had since joined, created a laser which could read barcodes.
The rest, as they say, is history. It is now hard to imagine a world without barcodes. Although the humble 1-D barcode is often seen as outmoded, given the advent of 2-D barcodes and Near-Field-Communication tags, I believe that they will remain with us for many decades to come. The longevity of the solution is found in the simplicity or a code which only requires a printer in order to produce it. Furthermore a laser scanner is not even a necessity any longer, most people already own a scanner in the form of a smart phone!
So here is to Norman Woodland (1921-2012) who allows us to do what we do today, and the smooth running of our enormously complicated world.