N. Joseph Woodland, who six decades ago drew a set of lines in the sand and in the process conceived the modern bar code, died on Sunday at his home in Edgewater, N.J. He was 91.
His daughter Susan Woodland confirmed the death.
A retired mechanical engineer, Mr. Woodland was a graduate student when he and a classmate, Bernard Silver, created a technology — based on a printed series of wide and narrow striations — that encoded consumer-product information for optical scanning.
Their idea, developed in the late 1940s and patented 60 years ago this fall, turned out to be ahead of its time. But it would ultimately give rise to the universal product code, or U.P.C., as the staggeringly prevalent rectangular bar code is officially known. The code now adorns tens of millions of different items, scanned in retail establishments around the world at the rate of more than five billion a day.
The bar code would never have developed as it did without a chain of events noteworthy even in the annals of invention etiology:
Had Mr. Woodland not been a Boy Scout, had he not logged hours on the beach and had his father not been quite so afraid of organized crime, the code would very likely not have been invented in the form it was, if at all.