David Shepard affectionately christened the rickety machine in his attic “Gismo”. It could read Morse code, sheet music, and even typewriter text. In April 1951, he registered his Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
under US Patent 2,663,758, and founded the Intelligent Machines Research Corporation.
His first client was Reader’s Digest
in 1955, which was soon able to simplify the management of millions of subscriber records dramatically. The addresses needed to be printed in a special typeface, with machine-readable characters and figures. One version, OCR-A, can still be found on credit cards and cheques today.
By the late 1960s, OCR was speeding up the data flow in Europe too. A new generation of reading devices dealt more tolerantly with the characters, making it possible in 1968 for the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA)
to commission a typeface from Adrian Frutiger
that could be read easily by both humans and machines: OCR-B
The technical OCR typefaces were rediscovered (in PostScript format) by computer designers in the early 1990s, and have remained among the most popular fonts for posters, magazines and covers ever since.
Still in use today: OCR-A figures on cheques and credit cards (Photo: FontShop)
Used for printing machine-readable labels: OCR-B on a type wheel (Photo: Wikipedia.org)