February 25, 2017

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They track purchases, packages, tickets and airline luggage. All because a college student overheard a conversation.

You probably think those bar codes you see on every box, bottle and package you buy – were born in a corporate research department or industrial think tank. Well think again.

The truth is, the bar code was invented by two college students.

In 1948, Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver were engineering students at Drexel University. One day Silver heard overheard a food chain executive ask a college dean how stores could automatically capture product information at check out. Silver told his fellow student Joe Woodland what he heard.

Working together the students developed a solution – a series of concentric circles that became known as the “bull’s eye” symbol…and an electronic device to read it. It was the first optically scanned bar code.

When Woodward went to work at IBM in 1951, he took the concept with him, in hopes the company would pursue it. It took 21 years, but in 1972, IBM Introduced the Universal Product Code  — a rectangular barcode symbol, designed with substantial input by Joe Woodland.

In fact, the UPC was so good, companies in every industry adopted it.

Today UPC barcodes track purchases, packages, tickets, boarding passes, airplane luggage, hospital patients and warehouse inventory. All because two college students overhead a conversation.

Engineering students Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver exemplify an axiomSolve a problem within your profession.

Now Why Didn’t I Think of That?!


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