George Joseph Laurer III
September 23, 1925
|Died||December 5, 2019 (aged 94)|
|Alma mater||University of Maryland|
|Universal Product Code|
George Joseph Laurer III (September 23, 1925 - December 5, 2019) was an American engineer for IBM at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. He published 20 bulletins, held 25 patents and developed the Universal Product Code (UPC) in the early 1970s. He devised the coding and pattern used for the UPC, based on Joe Woodland's more general idea for barcodes.
George Laurer was born on September 23, 1925, in New York City. His family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, so his father, an electrical engineer, could work for the United States Navy. Laurer recovered from polio which he contracted as a teenager, nonetheless, while in 11th grade, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. After being discharged from the military, he attended technical school where he studied radio and television repair. Upon completion of his first year at the technical school, his instructor convinced him that he should not continue that course of study, but that he should go to college. Laurer graduated from the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland in 1951. He was still interested in radio and kept up his amateur radio licence.
Laurer was a 36-year employee of IBM until his retirement in June 1987. He joined IBM in 1951 as a junior engineer. By 1969, he had been promoted to senior engineer / scientist and moved to the company's offices in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
At IBM, Laurer was assigned the task of developing barcodes for use in grocery stores. Initially, IBM envisioned a circular bullseye pattern as proposed by Joe Woodland in 1940s. Laurer realized that the pattern was ineffective because of smearing during printing. Instead, he designed a vertical pattern of stripes which he proposed to his superior in 1971 or 1972. This change was accepted by IBM management and Laurer then worked with Woodland and mathematician David Savir to develop and refine the details. These included the addition of a check digit to provide error correction. In 1973, the IBM proposal was accepted by the Symbol Selection committee of the Uniform Grocery Product Code Council, a consortium of grocery store companies.
The Universal Product Code has bit patterns at the beginning, middle and end of the barcode called "guard bars" and these have been interpreted as the digits 666. When he first developed the code, Laurer noticed that the digit 6 appeared several times and that this might be interpreted as the number of the Beast, as his daughter was studying the Book of Revelation. When the codes started to appear in stores, there were protests and an urban legend developed. Laurer addressed this on his website:
Laurer was the holder of 25 patents and authored 20 published Technical Disclosure Bulletins. In 1976, he was given the Raleigh Inventor of the Year Award. In 1980, he received the Corporate Technical Achievement award from IBM.