Three Things You Need to Know from the Inventor of the Bar Code's New York Times Obituary

Norman Joseph Woodland, the man who invented the bar code, died on Sunday at the age of 91.

Here are the three things you need to know from his New York Times obituary.

  1. He came up with the design of bar codes by fucking around in the sand.

    What I'm going to tell you sounds like a fairy tale," Mr. Woodland told Smithsonian magazine in 1999. "I poked my four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason - I didn't know - I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines. I said: ‘Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes.' "

  2. He originally wanted the bars to appear as circular patterns of lines (arranged like a bull's eye) so that they would be easier to scan.

    Mr. Woodland favored the circular pattern for its omnidirectionality: a checkout clerk, he reasoned, could scan a product without regard for its orientation.

  3. In college, he came up with an idea to revolutionize the elevator music industry, but his dad didn't let him pursue it because ELEVATOR MUSIC WAS CONTROLLED BY THE MAFIA.

    As an undergraduate, Mr. Woodland perfected a system for delivering elevator music efficiently. His system, which recorded 15 simultaneous audio tracks on 35-millimeter film stock, was less cumbersome than existing methods, which relied on LPs and reel-to-reel tapes.

    He planned to pursue the project commercially, but his father, who had come of age in "Boardwalk Empire"-era Atlantic City, forbade it: elevator music, he said, was controlled by the mob, and no son of his was going to come within spitting distance.

Fuckin' dads, right? Just let me live my life.

[NYT // Image via Shutterstock]