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Norman Joseph Woodland

Norman Joseph Woodland (September 6, 1921 – December 9, 2012) was an American inventor, best known as one of the inventors of the , for which he received a patent in October 1952. Later, employed by , he developed the format which became the ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) of product labeling and check-out stands.

Woodland was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 6, 1921, to Jewish parents, the elder of two boys.

After graduating from Atlantic City High School, Woodland did military service in World War II as a technical assistant with the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Woodland went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) from Drexel University (then called Drexel Institute of Technology) in 1947. From 1948 to 1949, he worked as a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Drexel.

In 1948, , a fellow Drexel Institute graduate student with Woodland, overheard a supermarket executive asking the dean of engineering if the Institute could determine how to capture product information automatically at checkout. The dean turned down the request, but Silver was interested enough to mention the problem to Woodland. After working on some preliminary ideas, Woodland was persuaded that they could create a viable product.

Woodland took some stock market earnings, quit his teaching job and moved to his grandfather's Florida apartment. While at the beach, Woodland again considered the problem, recalling, from his training, how dots and dashes are used to send information electronically. He drew dots and dashes in the sand similar to the shapes used in Morse code. After pulling them downward with his fingers, producing thin lines resulting from the dots and thick lines from the dashes, he came up with the concept of a two-dimensional, linear Morse code, and after sharing it with Silver and adapting optical technology, they applied for a patent on October 20, 1949, receiving Classifying Apparatus and Method on October 7, 1952, covering both linear and circular bulls-eye printing designs.

Woodland was employed by in 1951, and although Woodland and Silver wanted IBM to develop the technology, it wasn't commercially feasible, so they sold the patent in 1952 for $15,000 to , which sold it to later in 1952. RCA went on to attempt to develop commercial applications through the 1960s until the patent expired in 1969.

After RCA interested the National Association of Food Chains in 1969 in the idea, and they formed the U.S. Supermarket Ad Hoc Committee on a Uniform Grocery Product Code, rival IBM became involved in 1971, finding out about Woodland's work and transferring him to their North Carolina facilities, where he played a key role in developing the most important version of the technology, the Universal Product Code (UPC), beating RCA in a competition.

The first item scanned was a packet of chewing gum in an Ohio supermarket in 1974.

Woodland died from the effects of Alzheimer's disease The Toledo Blade, Thursday, December 13, 2013 on December 9, 2012, in Edgewater, New Jersey.

  • In 1973, presented Woodland with their Outstanding Contribution Award.
  • In 1992, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology from President George H. W. Bush for his contribution to barcode technology. "The National Medal of Technology Recipients"
  • In 1998 Woodland received an honorary degree from his alma mater, Drexel University.
  • In 2011, Woodland was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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