Woodland grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Silver was born in Pennsylvania. Both men served in the U.S. Army during World War II before attending Drexel University, where the two would meet
While at Drexel, Silver and Woodland overheard a local grocery store president asking the engineering department’s dean if he could create a system to capture product information at checkout.
Woodland and Silver presented a potential solution to the dean using light-sensitive ink, but the dean refused to let the pair take on the problem, and their idea was rejected. Woodland felt so passionately about the project that he left graduate school and moved to Florida to pursue it.
Woodland found inspiration in Miami Beach, where he drew the first bar code in the sand!
Woodland returned to Pennsylvania to further develop his idea with Silver. They created a working system together and filed U.S. Patent No. 2,612,994 in 1949.
The bar code developed by Woodland and Silver was based on extended Morse code, and it took over 20 years for this invention to become successful. Woodland took a job at IBM in 1951 with the hopes that the bar code would be further developed.
With substantial design input from Woodland, IBM promoted the rectangular bar code that would be formally adopted as the Universal Product Code (UPC) — first scanned in Troy, Ohio’s Marsh Supermarket in 1974.
The development of the bar code spurred the modern retail industry.
Once the UPC’s efficiency and success had been proven, companies withdrew their methods of product scanning and registered with the Uniform Code Council, now the GS1 US, to create a cohesive product scanning system.
The bar code developed by Woodland and Silver was used in a variety of ways, including tracking packages and mail, creating tickets, maintaining store registries and managing hospital patient identification.
For their work, the pair was Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) in 2011.