In & Around Food World

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I’m writing this column just a couple of weeks after the horrific incident that occurred in Newtown,CT. It’s difficult to understand what drove the individual to do what he did. It’s even more difficult to write about it, and all I can think to say is that the prayers of the entire Mid-Atlantic food industry go out to the families who lost their loved ones in this most tragic event.

In a related story, through the collaboration of ShopRite Supermarkets, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and local police, the first-ever “Goods for Guns” collection in the city of Baltimore took place last month at the Goldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corp., with more than 461 weapons taken off the streets.

In honor of the opening of the new ShopRite of Perring Crossing in Parkville, MD, the event was supported by Baltimore’s City Council, ShopRite operator Klein Family Markets, and UpLift Solutions Inc., founded by fellow ShopRite store operator Jeff Brown. Congratulations to all involved for taking real steps to make the city safer for all.

I found the life story of  N. Joseph Woodland, the co-inventor of the bar code that labels nearly every product in supermarkets and other stores and has boosted productivity in nearly every sector of commerce worldwide, fascinating as I read his obituary in The Washington Post. Woodland died last month in Edgewater, NJ at the age of 91. According to The Post, “…he and Bernard “Bob” Silver were students at what is now Drexel University in Philadelphia when Silver overheard a grocery a grocery-store executive asking an engineering school dean to channel students into research on how product information could be captured at checkout.

Woodland, who had worked on the Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb development team, and had already earned a mechanical engineering degree, dropped out of graduate school to work on the bar-code idea.”

In Miamihe focused on developing a code that could symbolically capture details about an item, according to his daughter Susan Woodland. The only code he knew was the Morse code he had learned in the Boy Scouts.

Woodlandtold 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.’”

In 1949, Woodland and Silver submitted their patent for a code patterned on concentric circles that looked like a bull’s-eye. The patent was issued in 1952.

Woodland joined IBM in 1951 hoping to develop the bar code, but the technology wasn’t accepted for more than two decades, until lasers made it possible to read the code readily, according to IBM.

In the early 1970s, Woodland joined a team in Raleigh, NC, at IBM’s ResearchTriangle Park facility. The team developed a bar-code-reading laser scanner system in response to grocers’ desires to automate and speed checkout while also cutting handling and inventory management costs.

IBM promoted a rectangular bar code that led to a standard for Universal Product Code technology. The first product sold using a UPC scan was a 67-cent package of Wrigley’s chewing gum at a supermarket inTroy,OH, in June 1974, according to GSIUS, the American affiliate of the global standard-setting UPC body.

Today, about five billion products are scanned and tracked world-wide every day, including sale items, airline boarding passes, military equipment, hospital patients, livestock and highway toll customers, GSI US says.

Retired from IBM in 1987, he received the National Medal of Technology from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1992.