Hard Disk Drive

Disk drives quickly store and retrieve information for computers.

The primary inventor is Reynold “Rey” Johnson. Previously, he invented and sold the technology that reads pencil dots, usually for taking tests, to IBM. Subsequently, he then joined them as a staff engineer. While at IBM he developed the hard disk drive.

The first hard drive, the IBM 350 RAMC, was about 1.5 sqm and weighed over a ton. Moving the disk drive required forklifts. It stored 5MB of memory (.05GB) and leased for $3,200 ($30,000 adjusted to 2019) per month. The only computer the drive worked with was the IBM305, a bemouth that used tubes and was programmed via wire jumpers.

After the hard drive, Johnson worked with IBM and Sony to develop the videocassette.

Eventually, after retirement, he developed the speech tech used in “speak to me books.”

Barcodes & Universal Product Code (UPC)

Barcodes and UPC:

  • Vastly sped checkout times.
  • Reduced the number of staff and training required and the risk of the wrong price being rung.
  • Increased the ability to electronically manage inventory, lowering carrying cost and spoilage risk.
  • Enabled Just-In-Time ordering and itemized invoices.
  • Transformed market research, enabling “big data” studies about items purchased together and which items are purchased in various geographies, at various times, and (when coupled with loyalty cards) by which customers.

Early History

Bernard Silver quit his job after hearing the need, from a grocer, for a better way to manage innovatory and imagining the barcode. He worked with Woodland, who was employed by IBM. Eventually, the two ー inspired by Morse Code ー invented the barcode, a series of dashes and dots to electronically identify items. They patented the innovation Oct. 20, 1949.

Woodland, loyal to his employer, urged IBM to commercialize the technology but they passed. IBM sold the patent to Philco in 1952 for $15,000, which later sold it to RCA, that went on to commercialize barcodes. Silver died in 1963, at age 38.

Barcodes had no known commercial uptake until patents expired in 1969. Eventually, a group of supermarkets banded together to hire McKinsey. They jointly developed the Universal Product Code (UPC).

IBM tasked Woodland, who still worked there, to work with the group developing the UPC.

The UPC identifies every version of every product in barcode form, allowing computers to quickly lookup the product name and price in a computer, the now-familiar checkout process. Laser technology, the bright beam of light, makes modern barcode reading possible.

To encourage adoption of the UPC, IBM agreed to put their barcode patents in the public domain, which they did.

McKinsey’s Wilson implies that IBM and others went on to file new patents, involving the use of the UPC, violating the spirit if not the letter of their agreement.

Barcodes Evolve

There were several competing barcode types in the early days but the now-familiar horizontal bars won out. The original barcode looked more like a bullseye. In 1973, the grocery consortia adopted the modern barcode and UPC as a standard.

Barcodes Become Ubiquitous

Troy’s Marsh Supermarket, in Ohio, is the site of the first barcode being run-up on June 26, 1974.

McKinsey estimated that, for UPC to work, nearly every product would need a UPC barcode before supermarkets would adopt the technology. They found that, in hindsight, the technology lowered cost and increased convenience so much that stores would adopt the technology when about two-thirds of products had UPC codes.

Cash Register

Cash registers help deter theft and led to modern bookkeeping.

Ritty was a saloon owner who had problems with employee theft.

He invented and patented the cash register, calling it the “Incorruptible Cashier” and created a company to sell it.

There was little interest and he tired of simultaneously running two businesses, one manufacturing and selling cash registers and the saloon. He sold the cash register company to John Patterson in 1884 for $6,500.

Patterson renamed it the National Cash Register, or NCR. In 2018, NCR has a market cap of $3.5B. Ritty had a ferocious focus on sales, demanding his salesmen (they were all men) act professionally, wear dark suits, white shirts, and patternless ties.

NCR executive Thomas Watson was forced to resign from NCR following a criminal anti-trust scandal. Watson eventually took over a small automation company, the Computer-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR).

As CTR grew, Watson focused on research and building ever better and more powerful machines. Eventually, when the New Deal came about, his company had the only machines powerful enough to keep track of records needed for social security income, payments, and overtime reporting. Watson subsequently renamed his company International Business Machines, or IBM, and never shied away from explaining many of his management practices came from NCR.

Ritty and Patterson remained friendly as NCR grew, with Ritty often invited to NCR events and parties. Despite NCR’s financial success, Ritty never expressed any regret at selling the company, apparently preferring to operate saloons.

Besides spawning two Fortune 500 companies, Ritty’s Pony House Salon hosted an eclectic group of patrons. Buffalo Bill Cody, gangster John Dillinger, and boxer Jack Dempsey were all customers.

Image result for james ritty salon
Ritty’s Pony House Salon