Edward Kaplan (ME '65)

How a Zebra Got Its Stripes

Edward Kaplan (ME ’65) doesn’t take credit for creating the mysterious lines and numbers we recognize today as bar codes, but it was his business savvy and innovative look at existing technology that made them a part of our everyday shopping experience.

After graduating from Illinois Tech, Kaplan went on to work as an engineer at Teletype Corp., where he joined forces with fellow Teletype engineer Gerhard Cless—who had also attended classes at Illinois Tech. In 1969, they each contributed $500 to found Data Specialties Inc., a manufacturer of high-speed electromechanical products such as hole-punching and tape-reading machines. In the 1980s, the company switched its focus to the emerging field of bar code technology and introduced The Zebra—a printer that made on-demand bar code printing possible and put the power to label at the hands of product manufacturers. A few years later the company created its first thermal transfer printer, further streamlining the labeling process.

The impact of Data Specialties Inc., now known as Zebra Technologies, can be traced throughout the world—literally. Packages, products, and services can efficiently store and transfer data that is used to improve any type of business.

At Illinois Tech, Kaplan took rigorous courses and studied alongside other motivated students who encouraged him to think big. Today, he serves as vice-chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees and as chair of its executive committee. He and his wife, Carol, invest in the next generation of innovative thinkers through their generous support of scholarships, endowed chairs, and capital projects—including the university's new innovation center, to be named the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship. Kaplan is a true example of an Illinois Tech alumnus whose innovation met entrepreneurship—and broke new ground. 


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