Norman Joseph Woodland (also known as N. Joseph Woodland and N. J. Woodland; September 6, 1921 – December 9, 2012) was best known as one of the inventors of the barcode, for which he received US Patent 2,612,994 in October 1952. 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 went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) from Drexel University (then called Drexel Institute of Technology) in 1947. During his military service in World War II, Woodland worked as a technical assistant with the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. From 1948-1949, he worked as a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Drexel.
In 1948, Bernard Silver, a fellow Drexel Institute of Technology grad student with Woodland, overheard a supermarket executive asking the dean of students to figure out how to capture product information automatically at checkout. The dean turned down the request, but Silver went on 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 Boy Scout training, how with Morse code dots and dashes are used to send information electronically, he started to draw 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 movie soundtrack technology, they applied for a patent on October 20, 1949, receiving U.S. Patent 2,612,994 ("Classifying Apparatus and Method") on October 7, 1952, covering both linear and circular bullseye printing designs.
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 on December 9, 2012, in Edgewater, New Jersey.
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