Magazine Article | April 22, 2011

From The Editor: Innovation In Unlikely Places

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

By Matt Pillar, Editor In Chief, Integrated Solutions For Retailers magazine

Discussing the development of the magnetic stripe with Jerome Svigals conjures up scenes from a movie set in the early 1970s — think Apollo 13. At 85, Svigals' voice carries the graveled wisdom that only comes with that kind of age, still harboring a touch of his native Bronx. He's the perfect first-person narrator for the part. And why not liken his story of the goings-on at IBM's Advanced Systems Development Division (ASDD) in the late 1960s and early 70s to something as dramatic and historic as the Apollo 13 mission? Svigals led a team that took a fairly unknown technology called magnetic recording, which was developed for CIA identification purposes during World War II, and turned it into a truly ubiquitous, globally transformative technology that today permeates virtually every walk of life in nearly every culture. Driver's licenses, mass transit tickets, identification cards, and, of course, the plastic that drives $6T in annual global retail transactions are all dependent on the resilient and relatively unchanged magnetic stripe.