N. Joseph Woodland, according to his NY Times obituary, drew four lines in the sand and a merchandising revolution was born.
Woodland is credited with inventing the Universal Product Code, more commonly known as the barcode. You pretty much can’t sell anything today without it.
His masterstroke was to translate the idea of morse code—that each alpha-numeric symbol could have an equvialent composed of dots and dashes—to print, reasoning that it would be easier to teach machines to read symbols representing alpha-numeric characters rather than the characters themselves. And he realized those symbols could be nothing more than lines of varying widths. (In Woodland’s imagining, the lines were circular, not vertical—that development came later.)
Woodland and the partner who helped him develop the idea earned $15,000 by selling the patent. But as the image above shows, he more than left his mark.