30 June 2021

Woodland

Recognise this guy? He has had an impact on all of our lives. Born in New Jersey in 1921, he died there in 2012 with  Alzheimer's clouding his mind. His name was Norman Joseph Woodland and the one big invention of his life was the barcode.

Thinking about his time as a boy scout when he learnt morse code, he made an ingenious leap of imagination in the late nineteen forties. His barcode idea could revolutionise stock control and be an enormous boon in commercial sales.

However, it took a while for other people and indeed frontline technology to catch up. Though his barcode invention was patented as early as 1952, it took a further twenty two years for it to break through into everyday use. The first item ever sold with the aid of a barcode was a pack of Wrigley's chewing gum in an Ohio supermarket. That was in June 1974. 

Barcodes enable detailed knowledge about sales and allow retailers  to  make accurate decisions about restocking. Just about everything we buy has a barcode on it from newspapers to airline tickets and from loaves of bread to refrigerators. You simply cannot get away from those black and white lines - each set different from the next.

All over the western world there are huge Amazon "fulfilment centres".  Without barcodes and associated scanners connected to computer systems, they simply could not operate in the swift and incredibly efficient manner  that most people now  take for granted.

And all of this has evolved from the inventiveness of a little known mechanical engineer from Atlantic City, New Jersey. You might say that Norman Woodland is an unsung hero. As I suggested  at the beginning of this blogpost, barcodes have affected us all - arguably in a positive, helpful manner.

27 comments:

  1. Wow, I had no idea the barcode was relatively new, or that its inventor was from NJ. Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. You are welcome. Woodland was a wistful dreamer too.

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  2. He definitely changed the world we live in.

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  3. I didn't realize. We use barcodes on patient ID too. They are ubiquitous.

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    1. Ubiquitous? Is that a Native American tribe?

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  4. I think of how bar codes changed the way we shop in supermarkets and how initially there was a lot of issues with bar codes not being read by the early scanners. Now, who would have thought QR codes would come into daily use in such a short time, even though they have been around for years.

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    1. I don't know much about QR codes. I may have to write a blogpost about them.

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  5. I had never heard of him, yet his invention has changed the world.

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    1. Yes. In many different ways. Barcodes are everywhere.

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  6. Selling barcode scanning equipment used to be part of my job between 2003 and 2011. Back then, I was quite fit in discerning the different varieties of codes. QR codes were just coming up; now they are everywhere, too. They have indeed made many things a lot easier and faster. I didn't know about Norman Woodland; thank you for giving me a bit of background information.
    When that first item with a barcode was sold, I was just about to start elementary school.

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    1. I bet you were a mischievous little girl - unlike your big sister who probably had a halo constantly hovering above head.

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  7. No, never heard of the gentleman. How tragic that, with a mind able to invent something as intricate as barcodes, he should suffer from Alzheimer's in later life.
    His invention certainly helps at the checkout in the supermarket.

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    1. And we can go home and check exactly what we bought because of barcodes.

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  8. ǁ|||ǁǁǁ|ǁǁǁ|||

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    1. Love it Tasker! Thinking not outside the box, but inside the barcode.

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  9. I worked for British Airways back in the early 1970s and remember my boss being involved in a big project going on at Heathrow Airport at the time to install a brand new, super duper barcode baggage sorting system. It seemed very new and exciting at the time.

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    1. Nowadays the baggage handling system would be utterly lost without barcodes. Interesting that you observed that big step first hand JayCee.

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  10. I thought a bar code meant that shirts,ties and evening suits are compulsory.

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    1. Ha-ha! I thought it concerned communication between sheep.

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  11. Many years ago, I was involved in a project to laser etch QR codes (what was thought to be the successor of the bar code) onto metal products. The advantages of QR codes were that you could encode a page of information instead of 43 characters. Although QR codes are still out and about, mostly in the form of embedded hyperlinks to webpages if you use your smart phone to scan them, they still haven't taken over the industry like I thought they would way back then.

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    1. I don't know much about QR codes. Maybe I should blog bout them too.

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  12. How do you come up with such varied topics to blog about?

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  13. I always wondered about the origin of the bar code and now I know. thanks.

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  14. An amazing invention, when you think about it. As another commenter said, it's rather sad that a man with a mind like that ended up losing it.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.

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