N. Joseph Woodland, a co-inventor of the system of thick and thin lines that today is the ubiquitous bar code, has died. He was 91.

Woodland, a longtime IBM (NYSE: IBM) employee, died on Dec. 9 at his home in Edgewater, New Jersey, the New York Times reported, citing his daughter, Susan Woodland. No cause was given.

Woodland joined IBM in 1951 hoping to develop the bar code, but the technology wasn’t accepted for more than two decades until lasers made it possible to read the code readily, the technology company said. In the early 1970s, Woodland moved to Raleigh to join a team at IBM’s Research Triangle Park, N.C., facility. The team developed a bar-code-reading laser scanner system in response to demand from grocers’ desires to automate and speed checkout while also cutting handling and inventory management costs.

IBM promoted a rectangular barcode that led to a standard for universal product code technology. The first product sold using a UPC scan was a 67-cent package of Wrigley’s chewing gum at a supermarket in Troy, Ohio, in June 1974, according to GS1 US, the American affiliate of the global standard-setting UPC body.

Today, about 5 billion products are scanned and tracked worldwide every day, including sale items, airline boarding passes, military equipment, hospital patients, livestock, and highway toll customers, GS1 US says.

Woodland and Microsoft founder Bill Gates were among those honored at the White House in 1992 for their achievements to technology, four months after President George H.W. Bush appeared amazed at a demonstration of a grocery checkout machine.

Woodland and Bernard Silver developed the bar code as graduate students at Drexel University in Philadelphia — then called Drexel Institute of Technology — in the late 1940s.

According to Drexel, the head of a local grocery-store chain had sought the university’s engineering help in 1948 to advance the checkout process. Woodland, in an article in Wonders of Modern Technology, recalled that he took his inspiration from the dots and dashes of Morse code.

“I just extended the dots and dashes downwards and made narrow lines and wide lines out of them,” Woodland said in the article, according to Drexel.

Norman Joseph Woodland was born on Sept. 6, 1921, and grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, according to the Hall of Fame.

During World War II, he was a technical assistant on the Manhattan Project to develop the world’s first atom bomb, according to an IBM profile.

After the war, Woodland earned his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Drexel and a master of science at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

He retired from IBM in 1987. In 1992, he received the National Medal of Technology from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, along with Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and six other recipients.

In addition to his daughter, Susan, Woodland is survived by his wife, the former Jacqueline Blumberg, whom he married in 1951; a second daughter, Betsy Karpenkopf; a brother, David; and a granddaughter, according to the Times.

IBM’s New Chips

IBM unveiled a new chip this week based on silicon nanophotonics, and Big Blue believes the chip will boost communications as well as processing at data centers, Forbes reports.

The chips rely in light for communications – thus the photonics reference.

“We’re basically attacking a fundamental problem,”IBM’s Dr. Solomon Assefa, lead scientist on the project, told Forbes. “Communication in computing systems. For example, look at how search is done. When someone queries, it goes to a big data center. It doesn’t just go to a single processor. You have to connect many racks and processors.”

[IBM ARCHIVE: Check out10 years of IBM stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]

(Bloomberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)