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Icons of Progress
 

UPC

The Transformation of Retail

No product, idea, or achievement is possible without our most critical asset—the collective thought capital of hundreds of thousands of IBMers. The expertise, technical skill, willingness to take risk, and overall dedication of IBM employees have led to countless transformative innovations through the years. Meet team members who contributed to this Icon of Progress.

  • George J. Laurer 

    “George Laurer came up with the finest symbology for the supermarket application. He came up with an easy and reliable way to encode and decode UPC data.” –Joe Woodland

    Drafted by the Army while still in the 11th grade, George Laurer attended technical school for radio and TV repair after being discharged as a technical sergeant. At the end of his first year, Laurer's instructors encouraged him to forego his second year and attend college instead. Laurer graduated from the University of Maryland School of Engineering and joined IBM in Endicott, NY, as a junior engineer in the summer of 1951. Laurer worked his way up the IBM ranks, eventually becoming senior engineer/scientist in 1969 at IBM's Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, NC. Only a few years later, in 1973, Laurer went on to spearhead the development of the now-ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) symbol that revolutionized virtually every industry in the world. Thirty-eight years later, the UPC code and symbol are still in active and widespread use. In 1976, Laurer received the Raleigh [NC] Inventor of the Year Award and was honored with IBM's Corporate Technical Achievement award in 1980.

  • N. Joseph Woodland 

    “Joe was the father of the supermarket scanning system. His application showed tremendous foresight.” –George Laurer

    During WWII, Norman Joseph Woodland was a technical assistant on the Manhattan Project before finishing his B.S. in mechanical engineering at Drexel University. While teaching at Drexel, Woodland’s fellow graduate student Bernard Silver overheard a grocery store owner’s desire to track products and automate the checkout process. Silver told Woodland, and both were intrigued with the idea and eventually devised the world’s first bar code technology. They received a U.S. patent for their "Classifying Apparatus and Method” but would have to wait for low-cost laser and computing technology to advance their invention. Woodland joined IBM Raleigh in 1951 and in 1971 assisted the commercialization of what had become the UPC. In 1973, IBM presented Woodland with the Outstanding Contribution Award, and in 1992 Woodland was awarded the National Medal of Technology.

  • Paul McEnroe 

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    An IBMer for 23 years, Paul was hired in 1960, and in 1969, was named development manager of a new consumer transaction team that would go on to create industry's Universal Product Code (UPC) as well as the bar code scanner. Later, as Director of IBM’s Raleigh Laboratory, McEnroe went on to manage the token ring local area network (LAN). In the mid-1970s, Paul McEnroe received the IBM Award of Excellence for creation of the supermarket system "from inception through shipment."

  • Dr. Robert “B.O.” Evans 

    B.O. Evans held many positions at IBM, including the Head of Research Division at Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, NC. He held overall management responsibility for the development of IBM's Universal Product Code (UPC).

  • Bernard Silver 

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    Bernard Silver was a classmate and colleague of Joe Woodland at Drexel University. It was Silver who originally brought the notion of automated price recording and reading to Woodland in 1948 and, with Woodland, received the original patent.

  • Art Hamburgen 

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    Art Hamburgen directed the development of the first prototype scanner. Incorporating Laurer's architecture, this scanner was instrumental in demonstrating the effectiveness of the UPC system to IBM executives.

  • Heard Baumeister 

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    Heard Baumeister was a teammate who advised Laurer during the UPC’s development. Most significantly, Baumeister influenced UPC scanner technology by suggesting the use of a folded mirror to produce an “X” scan, making the scan’s orientation to the UPC pattern immaterial—that is, at least one of the scan lines will cross all the bars of the UPC symbol.

  • Bill Crouse 

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    Bill Crouse designed the superior Delta C code for character-by-character impact printing that compared the distances of leading-to-leading edges and trailing-to-trailing edges (of the bars in the UPC symbol). Delta C greatly decreased scanning errors and increased character density to accommodate a smaller label size.

  • David Savir 

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    David Savir was a mathematician who validated concepts and designs for the UPC scanner and devised an algorithm for an essential element of the UPC. Savir also wrote a document with Laurer explaining the effects of symbol design on scanner decoding and readability.