A Story Worth Reading

For many outside our industry, the name Gerber is synonymous with baby food. But for those in electronics design and assembly, Gerber means something much different indeed.

Still, how many realize the backstory of the man who invested the machine language-turned-data format?

H. Joseph Gerber invented the photoplotter and the eponymously named de facto standard that ran it. Gerber’s genius cut across many industries, from electronics to apparel, and he was awarded the 1994 National Medal of Technology for its life’s work.

But his life is in many ways even more interesting — and certainly more dramatic — than his career. As a teenager in 1940, he fled Nazi Germany for America. As an aeronautical engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he discovered a way to reduce the time-consuming nature of graphing calculus problems using (seriously) an “expandable ruler” created from the elastic waistband of his pajamas. And of course, he formed The Gerber Scientific Instrument Co. in 1948, which is still going strong today.

Gerber’s son David is writing a book about his father’s exploits. I look forward to learning more about the life of one of our industry’s true unsung heroes.