He planned to pursue the project commercially, but his father, who had come of age in “Boardwalk Empire”-era Atlantic City, forbade it: elevator music, he said, was controlled by the mob, and no son of his was going to come within spitting distance.Elevator music... and the mob. It's all so evil! Then Woodland, as a grad student, heard about the need to encode product data efficiently. He dropped out of grad school, "holed up at his grandparents’ home in Miami Beach," and "spent the winter of 1948-49 in a chair in the sand, thinking." He thought about Morse code, which he'd learned in the Boy Scouts.
“What I’m going to tell you sounds like a fairy tale,” Mr. Woodland told Smithsonian magazine in 1999. “I poked my four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason — I didn’t know — I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines. I said: ‘Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes.’ ”N. Joseph Woodland died last Sunday at the age of 91.