Inventors Hall of Fame Inducts Fathers of Barcode

Bernard Silver, Barcode InventorThe pair of Drexel grads who are in large part responsible for the birth of the barcode industry receive recognition for this formidable invention, over half a century later. Bernard Silver and N. Joseph Woodland, inventors of the first optically scanned barcode, are 2011 inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame™.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame™ honors the legendary men and women whose innovations and entrepreneurial endeavors have changed the world. Founded in 1973 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Association, with its 2011 Induction the Hall of Fame will have 460 Inductees. The National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum is located in the atrium of the Madison Building on the campus of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, VA.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame annually accepts nominations for men and women whose work has changed society and improved the quality of life.  The candidate's invention must be covered by a United States patent, and the work must have had a major impact on society, the public welfare, and the progress of science and the useful arts.

Silver and Woodland began working on the barcode in 1948 after Silver overheard a food chain executive asking a Drexel dean to research the possibility of automatically capturing product information at checkout.

Woodland, Barcode InventorAfter an initial attempt consisting of a pair of lines and circles based on Morse Code, the pair's collaboration resulted in the creation of a shape of concentric circles, or what became known as the “bulls eye” symbol, which became the first code to be scanned. Some sources claim that the idea came to Woodland on a Florida beach near his grandfather's apartment, where he lived after quitting his teaching job to work on the barcode project. It is said that while considering the problem, he began to draw lines and dashes in the sand, similar to the Morse Code, then pulling the symbols downward with his fingers, inspired the idea of a 2D Morse Code, which would go on to become the "bulls eye" symbol. In 1951, Silver and Woodland built an actual barcode reader which could read the code electronically. This same year, Woodlands took a job at IBM, in hopes that their idea would be further developed. In October1952, three years after submitting the application, Woodland and Silver received US Patent 2,612,994 ("Classifying Apparatus and Method"). In 1973, 10 years after Silver's death, a rectangular barcode promoted by IBM, after substantial design input by Woodland, was formally adopted as the Universal Product Code (UPC).

Of course, today we enjoy the myriad applications of the barcode; tracking shipped packages, boarding passes and luggage routing for air travel, tickets for entertainment events, store registries, patient identification in hospitals, floor control in warehouses to name only a few. The GS1 US estimates that five billion scans take place worldwide every day.

Some of the other 2011 inductees into the Inventor's Hall of Fame include, George Devol, the man responsible for the first digitally operated programmable robotic arm; Diffie, Hellman and Markle, the triad that gave the world public key cryptography (PKC), a radically new method for securing electronic communications, thereby securing the internet; Eric Fossum, who developed CMOS Active Pixel Image Sensor, the reason we have cameras in our phones; and Steve Sasson, the inventor credited with the invention of the digital camera. A number of inventors will also be honored posthumously, included are the inventors of the windshield wiper, quartz clock, loading coil, margarine, and cash register.

"We're pleased to present such a stellar group of 2011 Inductees," said Edward Gray, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, "We hope that their accomplishments remind us of the great innovation in America's past and the importance to America of continued innovation today."

The 2011 induction, sponsored in part by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the Kauffman Foundation, will take place on May 4 at the historic Patent Office Building, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C. The location is particularly relevant this year because the 2011 class of inductees includes a group of 29 historical inventors who will be recognized posthumously, most of whom would have submitted patent applications to the very same building in which they will be honored.

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