Alan Haberman

from the New York Times... Alan Haberman, who ushered In the Bar Code, dies at 81 On a summer morning in 1974, a man in Ohio bought a package of chewing gum and the whole world changed. At 8:01 a.m. on June 26 of that year, a 10-pack of Wrigley s Juicy Fruit gum slid down a conveyor belt and past an optical scanner. The scanner beeped, and the cash register understood, faithfully ringing up 67 cents. That purchase, at a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, was the first anywhere to be rung up using a bar code. Today, trillions of beeps later, what was once a novel technology with uncertain prospects is so widespread as to be almost invisible. It informs nearly every aspect of modern life, providing a means for people to buy and sell things, couriers to track packages and airlines to locate (in principle, anyway) lost luggage. This transformation, industry experts say, is largely because of the work of one person, a supermarket executive from Massachusetts named Alan L. Haberman, who died on Sunday at 81. Mr. Haberman did not invent the universal product code, or U.P.C., as the most prevalent type of bar code is formally known. But it is to him that its sheer black-and-white ubiquity and familiar graphic form are primarily owed. His death, in Newton, Mass., was of complications of heart and lung disease, his family said. Born of an effort to modernize the grocery industry, the U.P.C. standardized the way consumer product information is represented in the electronic age. It has spread to every corner of human endeavor, creating an unlikely global family of bar-coded bedfellows that includes bran flakes and books and bananas, bus tickets, babies and bees. Tens of millions of different objects have acquired bar codes over the years; each day, more than five billion of the codes are scanned in retail establishments worldwide, according to GS1 US, the nonprofit organization based in Lawrenceville, N.J., that issues and administers the codes. Mr. Haberman led the industry committee that chose the bar code over other contenders circles, bull s-eyes and seemingly random agglomerations of dots in 1973. By all accounts, he spent years afterward cajoling manufacturers, retailers and the public to accept the strange new symbol, which resembles a highly if irregularly compacted zebra. His efforts helped cement the marriage between the age-old practice of commerce and the new world of information technology. Alan Lloyd Haberman was born in Worcester, Mass., on July 27, 1929. He earned a bachelor s degree in American history and literature from Harvard in 1951 and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1953. After a brief career on Wall Street as a stock analyst, he joined Hills Supermarkets, a Long Island chain, as executive vice president. In the mid-1960s, after a merger with E. J. Korvette, the discount retailer, Mr. Haberman was named president of Hills-Korvette Supermarkets. He was later the chief executive of Finast, a Massachusetts-based supermarket chain. The bar code dates back to the 1940s, when two graduate students at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, developed it for use in grocery stores. They received a patent in 1952, but because scanning technology was poor then, their invention went largely unused. Over the next two decades, some manufacturers and retailers put their own product coding systems in place, but one company s system was usually unintelligible to another s. As Stephen A. Brown, the author of Revolution at the Checkout Counter, a history of the bar code, explained in a telephone interview, The grocery product manufacturers Kellogg s, General Mills, people like that they were terrified at the thought that they would soon be facing conflicting demands from their customers: that Safeway would ask them to put on a symbol that was a semicircle, that Kroger would ask them to put on a symbol that was a square, and so on. Mr. Brown, a former general counsel to the Grocery Manufacturers of America and later to the Uniform Code Council, as GS1 US was previously known, was present during the bar-code selection process. By the early 1970s, amid rising inflation, supermarkets wanted to cut labor costs by automating the ways their wares were stocked, inventoried and rung up. A committee of executives was convened, with Mr. Haberman as its chairman, to choose a standard symbol that could be used nationwide to encode product data electronically. By this time the Woodland-Silver patent had lapsed, and the committee examined submissions from more than a dozen technology companies. As Mr. Brown recalled, Mr. Haberman soon came to favor a design of black-and-white vertical bars, created by George J. Laurer of I.B.M. and inspired by the Woodland-Silver model. The design would print crisply, which meant scanners could read it clearly. Through its varying patterns of thick and thin bars, it could efficiently represent the 11 digits needed to encode data about manufacturer and product. (Today, U.P.C. codes typically have 12 digits.) Mr. Haberman s committee comprised more than half a dozen type-A businessmen, and discussion could be fractious. At one meeting, in San Francisco in the early 1970s, as Mr. Brown s book reports, Mr. Haberman found a spectacularly good way to smooth dissent. First he organized a dinner at one of the city s finest restaurants. Then he took everyone to a local movie theater to see Deep Throat. Not long afterward, the committee voted unanimously for the I.B.M. bar code, adopted in April 1973. Mr. Haberman, who lived in Natick, Mass., is survived by his wife, the former Natalie Diamond; two children, Arthur Haberman and Jeanette Gannon; two sisters, Elaine Feldman and Arnalee Cohen; and five grandchildren. A daughter, Nan Haberman, died before him, as did a grandson. As a founder and longtime board member of the Uniform Code Council, Mr. Haberman was for decades an ambassador for automated product identification in all its forms, from the bar code to newer technologies like radio frequency identification, now used by some retailers. Go back to Genesis and read about the Creation, he told The Boston Globe in 2004. God says, I will call the night night ; I will call the heavens heaven. Naming was important. Then the Tower of Babel came along and messed everything up. In effect, the U.P.C. has put everything back into one language, a kind of Esperanto, that works for everyone. That language is everywhere. At hospitals throughout the world, newborns are identified by means of bar codes on bracelets. Marathon runners take to the streets, bar codes on chests. Scientists tracking the movements of honeybees have glued tiny bar codes onto their backs. In recent years, the new generation of two-dimensional, cellphone-scannable bar codes heirs of the U.P.C. code has let consumers track the lowest price of a favorite product or scan a real estate sign to see photos of a house for sale. And today, in Washington, somewhere in the bowels of the Smithsonian Institution s National Museum of American History, lies a 37-year-old, bar-coded package of Juicy Fruit gum. Part of the museum s permanent collection, it is an unassailable, if by now unchewable, piece of the national past.