Timeline of optical character recognition

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This is a timeline of optical character recognition.


Time period Summary
1870–1931 Earliest ideas of optical character recognition (OCR) are conceived. Fournier d'Albe's Optophone and Tauschek's Reading Machine are developed as devices to help the blind read.[1]
1931–1954 First OCR tools are invented and applied in industry, able to interpret Morse code and read text outloud. The Intelligent Machines Research Corporation is the first company created to sell such tools.[2]
1954–1974 The Optacon, the first portable OCR device, is developed. Similar devices are used to digitise Reader's Digest coupons and postal addresses. Special typefaces are designed to facilitate scanning.[1][3][4]
1974–2000 Scanners are used massively to read price tags and passports.[5] Companies such as Caere Corporation, ABBYY and Kurzweil Computer Products Inc, are created. The latter one develops the first omni-font OCR software, capable of reading any text document.[6]
2000–2016 OCR software is made available online for free, through products like Adobe Acrobat, WebOCR, and Google Drive.[7][8]


Year Event type Technology Details
1870 Invention American inventor Charles R. Carey invents the retina scanner, an image transmission system using a mosaic of photocells, considered the first OCR invention in the world.[1]
1885 Invention Image scanner Paul Nipkow invents the Nipkow disk, an image scanning device that later will be a major breakthrough both for modern television and reading machines.[9]
1900 Invention Russian scientist Tyurin envisions the first OCR machine to serve as an aid to the visually handicapped, but never manages to develop it.[1]
1912 Product Text-to-speech Edmund Fournier d'Albe develops the Optophone, a handheld scanner that when moved across a printed page, produces tones that corresponded to specific letters or characters, so as to be interpreted by a blind person.[10][11]
1916 Patent American engineer John B. Flowers patents the "One-Eyed Machine Stenographer", a machine capable of reading and typing a script. It worked by superimposing all the letters to find a point that marked each of them.[12]
1921 Invention Text-to-tactile sensations Italian professor Ciro Codelupi envisions the "Reading machine for the blind", capable of transforming luminous sensations into tactile sensations.[13]
1929 Invention Austrian engineer Gustav Tauschek creates the first OCR device called the "Reading Machine", with a photo-sensor pointing light on words when they corresponded to a content template in its memory.[14]
1931 Patent Text-to-telegraph Israeli physicist and inventor Emanuel Goldberg is granted a patent for his "Statistical machine" (US Patent 1838389), which was later acquired by IBM. It was described as capable of reading characters and converting them into standard telegraph code.[1]
1938 Invention MIT professor Vannebar Bush develops the Microfilm Rapid Selector, a similar but simpler Goldberg' statistical machine, and 40 times faster.[15]
1949 Application Engineers working on the Radio Corporation of America start a project to help the blind and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, using the first text-to-speech techniques.[16]
1951 Invention Text & Morse-to-speech American cryptoanalyst David H. Shepard and Harvey Cook Jr. build "Gismo", a machine able to read aloud letter by letter and interpret Morse code (U.S. Patent 2,663,758).[2]
1952 Company The Intelligent Machines Research Corporation is founded by D. Shepard and William Lawless Jr, to commercialise Gismo (later renamed to "Analysing Reader").[17]
1954 Application American magazine Reader's Digest becomes the first business to install an OCR reader, used to convert typewritten sales reports into punched cards.[1]
1962 Invention Portability Stanford professor John Linvill develops the Optacon, the first portable reading device for the blind.[18]
1965 Application Reader's Digest expands its OCR use to digitise serial numbers of coupons. with a RCA 501 computer.Template:Fix/category[citation needed]
1965 Invention American inventor Jacob Rabinow develops an OCR machine to sort mail from the US Post Office.[4]
1966 Invention Handwriting scanner The IBM Rochester lab develops the IBM 1287, the first scanner capable of reading any handwritten numbers.[19]
1966 Patent Linvill is granted the patent for the Optacon, described as "Reading aid for the blind" (U.S. patent 3229387).
1968 Invention Typefaces American Type Founders and Swiss designer Adrian Frutiger introduced OCR-A and OCR-B; typefaces made to facilitate OCR operations.[3][20]
1971 Application Postal scanner Canadian postal operator Canada Post starts using OCR systems, to read the name and address on the envelopes and to print barcodes, using ultraviolet ink (U.S. Patent 5420403).[21]
1974 Company Omni-font American inventor Ray Kurzweil creates Kurzweil Computer Products Inc., which develops the first omni-font OCR software, able to recognize text printed in virtually any font.[5]
1976 Company Dallas company Recognition Equipment Inc. is founded to read credit card receipts from gasoline purchases (U.S. Patent 4027141).[9]
1977 Company Commercialisation Robert Noyce founds the Caere Corporation (now Nuance Communications), and introduces the first commercial handheld OCR reader.[22]
1978 Product Kurzweil Computer Products begins selling a commercial version of the OCR computer program, called the "Kurzweil Reading Machine".[6]
1980 Selling Kurzweil's company is sold to Xerox, who renamed it as Scansoft (now merged with Nuance Communications).[9]
1984 Product Passport scanner Caere Corporation develops the first passport scanner for the U.S. State Department.[23]
1987 Application Price tag scanner American retailers Sears, Kmart and J.C. Penney start using OCR to scan price tags.[21]
1989 Company OCR Russian company ABBYY is founded by David Yang, and starts selling products intended to simplify converting paper files to digital data.[24]
1992 Invention The first program that recognizes Cyrillic is invented by Russian company OKRUS.[1]
2000 Application Online service OCR technology is made available online as a service (WebOCR), in a cloud computing environment, as well as in mobile applications like real-time translation of foreign-language signs on a smartphone.[25]
2005 Application Software The free cross-platform OCR engine Tesseract is published by Hewlett Packard and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
2008 Application Adobe Acrobat starts including support for OCR on any PDF file.[8]
2011 Application Word-frequency lookup Google Ngram Viewer is developed to chart frequencies of words on any source printed from 1950 to 2008.[26][27]
2013 Application The MNIST database is created to train machine learning models in pattern recognition.[28]
2015 Application Open access Google offers OCR tools to scan any Google Drive files in over 200 languages for free.[7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Schantz, H. F. (1982) The history of OCR: optical character recognition, Recognition Technologies Users Association.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The First OCR System: "GISMO" (1951) : HistoryofInformation.com". www.historyofinformation.com. Retrieved 2016-09-17. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Frutiger, Adrian. Type. Sign. Symbol. ABC Verlag, Zurich, 1980. p. 50
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Optical character recognition - History". ABBYY Technology. Retrieved 18 September 2016. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 J. Scott Hauger, Reading Machines for the Blind ( PDF ), Blacksburg, Virginia, Faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, April 1995, pp. I-II, 11-13.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Kurzweil Computer Products". www.kurzweiltech.com. Retrieved 2016-09-18. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Paper to Digital in 200+ languages". Retrieved 2016-09-18. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Press Room". Adobe Systems. 14 July 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "The History of OCR". Data processing magazine. 12: 46. 1970.
  10. EE Fournier, The Type-Reading Optophone, Our Surplus, Our Ships, and Europe's Need, and more ( PDF ), inScientific American , vol. 123, nº 19, New York, Scientific American Publishing Co., November 6, 1920, pp. 463-465.
  11. d'Albe, E. E. Fournier (1914-07-01). "On a Type-Reading Optophone". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 90 (619): 373–375. ISSN 1364-5021. doi:10.1098/rspa.1914.0061. 
  12. La macchina che legge e che scrive (PDF), in La scienza per tutti, Year XXIII, nº 11, Milano, Casa Editrice Sozogno, 1º June 1916, p. 166. (italian)
  13. Macchina per leggere pei ciechi (PDF), in La scienza per tutti, Year XXVIII, nº 2, Milano, Casa Editrice Sozogno, 15 January 1921, p. 20 (italian)
  14. "History of Computers and Computing, Birth of the modern computer, The bases of digital computers, OCR". history-computer.com. Retrieved 2016-09-09. 
  15. Buckland, Michael Keeble (2006-01-01). Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine: Information, Invention, and Political Forces. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313313325. 
  16. "Reading Machine Speaks Out Loud", February 1949, Popular Science.
  17. Douglas Martin (December 11, 2007). "David H. Shepard, 84, Dies; Optical Reader Inventor". New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2010. 
  18. "The Reading Machine That Hasn't Been Built Yet". AccessWorld. Retrieved 18 September 2016. 
  19. "Rochester chronology". IBM. Retrieved 18 September 2016. 
  20. "OCR-A Std | Typekit". typekit.com. Retrieved 2016-09-18. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Overview of OCR and Its Applications" (PDF). Understanding Optical Character Recognition. Retrieved 18 September 2016. 
  22. "History of Caere Corporation – FundingUniverse". www.fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved 2016-09-23. 
  23. Jacobson, Gary. "No grudges, Bill Moore says, but he still seeks justice". Dallas News. Retrieved 18 September 2016. 
  24. "Mixergy interview: How A Bulletin Board Post Changed Everything – with David Yang". Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  25. "Understanding Optical Character Recognition" (PDF). Bar Code & Data Acquisition. Retrieved 18 September 2016. 
  26. "Google Ngram Database Tracks Popularity Of 500 Billion Words" Huffington Post, 17 December 2010, webpage: HP8150.
  27. "Culturomics, Ngrams and new power tools for Science". Retrieved 2016-09-18. 
  28. "MNIST handwritten digit database, Yann LeCun, Corinna Cortes and Chris Burges". yann.lecun.com. Retrieved 2016-09-18. 

Category:Optical character recognition Category:Computing timelines