Milton Field
1917-2009

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Lori Ellen Concilio of McDonald; two sisters, Irene Schepartz of Tallahassee, Fla., and Lois Shapiro of Pittsburgh; and two granddaughters.

Milton Field 91, who devoted his working life to codes -- first breaking Japanese codes for the U.S. Army during World War II and later developing bar codes used on consumer goods.

The Hill District native graduated at age 16 from Schenley High School in 1933 and got a job at James H. Matthews & Co., which later became Matthews International, a Pittsburgh firm whose products include stamping and marking materials.

While beginning what would become a nearly 50-year career with Matthews, Mr. Field studied printing at Connelly Trade School and later at Carnegie Institute of Technology, a predecessor to Carnegie Mellon University, where in 1940 he earned a degree in print management and graphic arts.

When Mr. Field enlisted in the Army in August 1941, he was selected to train as a code breaker for the Signal Corps and the following year was sent to New Guinea in the South Pacific.

"Bad days for the Allies. We were on the defensive with minimal forces," Mr. Field told The Pittsburgh Press in a 1978 interview. But the young soldier was on the team that decoded an intercepted message that detailed Japanese plans to attack New Guinea in early 1943. Using the advance information, Allied air forces assembled bombing crews and eventually won a major victory in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Mr. Field's unit received a Presidential Citation for its efforts and Mr. Field also earned three Bronze Stars during his military service, said his son, James Field of Mt. Lebanon.

Milt Field is truly one of the founding fathers of the Auto-ID industry. When the U. P. C. Symbol was introduced, Milt immediately recognized the great potential in this technology. At this time, working at Matthews International Corporation, he became a pioneer in the implementation of this technology across a wide range of applications.

Milt created the Symbol Systems business unit at Matthews, a major supplier of plates to the printing and graphics industry. This unit started out creating U. P. C. bar code symbol artwork using a labor intense method to produce the film masters. Recognizing the need for faster, more efficient and a more accurate method for producing masters, Milt worked with Perkin-Elmer Corporation (and Harry Palmer, who later founded RJS) to develop a state of the art photo-plotter (micro-densitometer) that quickly and accurately produced symbol film masters to a tolerance of ±5 microns.

Again, working with Harry Palmer, Milt obtained for Matthews the initial exclusive sales and marketing rights for the first automatic bar code verification device, the Matthews Micro-Chek (also known as the Auto-Scan). This unit was, for many years, the only device capable of verifying a film master to the ±5 microns spec.

In the mid-1970’s the U.P.C. program was struggling to become accepted. [In fact in 1976 Business Week published an article headlined ‘The Supermarket Scanner That Failed’.] Milt developed a series of educational seminars sponsored by Matthews to promote symbol source-marking to supermarket suppliers, a first for any AIDC equipment vendor. Milt championed the technology to a broad range of industries; and was particularly influential in the adoption of the U.P.C. by the magazine, recording and alcoholic beverage industries.

Because the Graphics Division of Matthews was a major supplier of plates for printing on corrugated, both in the U.S. (14 plants) and Europe, Milt was a pioneer in the development of the SCC using the Interleaved Two of Five symbology. He was a charter member of the Distribution Symbology Study Group (DSSG) that developed the specifications for the SCC, a major initial step toward the use of barcodes in logistics and warehouse management.

Milt received a BA in Graphic Arts from Carnegie Institute of Technology (latter to become Carnegie Mellon University).