The Gerber Variable Scale®

Heinz Joseph Gerber was born in 1924 in Vienna, Austria. By the age of eight, he was building motors and radios. By the time of his death in 1996, Gerber had earned more than 650 U.S. and international patents and had singlehandedly saved an American industry.

At age 15, Gerber was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp. A year later, in 1940, he and his mother managed to escape to the U.S. Gerber completed high school in two years, then earned a BSc from Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in less than three years. As a junior at RPI, Gerber invented what has been called the most revolutionary engineering tool since the slide rule: the Gerber Variable Scale®. This device looks like a slide rule, but uses a triangular calibrated spring as a computing element which eliminates all conversions and scaling from numerics to graphics and curves.

In 1945, Gerber launched The Gerber Scientific Instrument Company to market this device. Soon, just about every engineer around the globe either owned one or wished that they did. Following up on his initial success, Gerber transformed his company (now Gerber Technology) into an international supplier of a vast array of technological devices.

In the 1950s, Gerber invented the world's first truly digital drafting machine, or "photoplotter." This same device is used for over 75% of the television circuit boards manufactured today. In the late 1960s, concerned that the U.S. was losing its clothing industry to foreign manual labor, Gerber invented the GERBERcutter® S-70, a fully automated cloth-cutting system. Then, Gerber was hailed as "the savior of the industry" and "the father of apparel automation." Today, over $500 million worth of GERBERcutters® are used in factories in about 40 countries. In the 1980s, Gerber helped perfect the computer-assisted equipment that allows opticians to produce eyeglasses in about an hour.

Joseph Gerber is virtually unknown to the general public. Yet those who know his achievements quite rightly consider him one of the greatest American inventors and businessmen of the 20th century.