Innovator, inventor, and entrepreneur Joseph Gerber spearheaded computer-automated manufacturing systems for many industries—from automotive to optical.

Gerber, who passed in 1996, was the founder and chairman of Gerber Scientific Inc. The South Windsor, CT-based company, which is now known as Gerber Technology, currently employs more than 1,500 people worldwide and has annual sales of more than $350 million.

A Lifetime of Innovation

An Austrian-born Jewish Holocaust survivor, Gerber immigrated to New York City and then Hartford, CT, in 1940. During his junior year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he was studying to earn his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from, Gerber invented the Gerber Variable Scale, a graphical-numerical computing device.

After receiving a $3,000 investment, Gerber patented the Variable Scale he’d invented. He then founded the Gerber Scientific Instrument Company in Hartford, CT to produce and market the device.

Gerber invented additional computation devices throughout the 1950s. During this time, the Gerber Variable Scale became a “standard tool” used by engineers worldwide in applications including stress-strain analysis and architectural design.

His inventions impacted many industries including engineering, electronics, apparel, printing and sign making, and packaging and labeling.

Innovative Developments

Gerber introduced the first automated machines for drafting in the early 1960s. Using his machines, engineers and designers could graphically interact with design process, which allowed them to be more creative.

In addition, complex design products, including the first “jumbo” military and commercial aircraft, the U.S. Air Force C-5 Transport by Lockheed Martin, and the Boeing 747 were designed with Gerber’s automated drafting technologies—which greatly improved cost and manufacture time.

Over the following two decades, Gerber’s automated systems would capture three quarters of the automated drafting system market.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Gerber made innovative developments in apparel and textile manufacturing, computer-assisted design (CAD), and tooling manufacturing.

In 1967, the Gerber Scientific revolutionized the apparel industry with the invention the GERBERcutter® System 70, the first automated cutting system. The numerically controlled machine, which was able to cut large quantities of cloth, automated what was once a labor-intensive process.

Gerber also introduced the first numerically controlled machines for sewing and producing pattern layouts. His company also developed computer-controlled systems used to design, digitize, grade, and prototype apparel patterns, as well as an integrated system that included fabric spreaders, parts-moving systems, concept design, and product data management. It was these inventions that led to Gerber becoming known as “the father of apparel automation.”

Gerber rolled out the Interactive Design System (IDS) in 1974 and was a top-tier supplier of software and hardware computer graphics workstations used for CAD. In the 1980s, he developed additive manufacturing methods for making apparel, shoes, and furniture.

Gerber’s automated cutting, layout, and sewing technologies were also used to cut and embroider material for shoes. Gerber’s influence included the development of the first 3-D computer aided design workstations used to make shoes. Introduced in 1989, the Gerber ShoeMaker significantly reduced the time spent to make shoes.

Gerber’s inventions were used for intricate mechanical products (e.g., airplanes, cars, and ships), and for the conception of circuit boards for consumer, industrial, and military electronics products.

His photoplotter, which was the first imagesetter, was the first computerized product used to automate printing prepress. In 1981, he introduced the Autoprep, which was the first computerized system for production printing—this signified the beginning of automated prepress. Gerber’s system managed the entire digital workflow of a printing operation. Just three years later, in 1984, Gerber began developing Computer-To-Plate (CTP) technology. Known as Gerber’s Crescent, the technology— which is now used by most printers and newspapers— was introduced in 1991 as the first commercially viable CTP Platesetter.

An Entrepreneur with Impact

Gerber’s technologies for drafting, electronics, and apparel production impacted the manufacturing processes in related fields from prescription eyewear to packaging and labeling to cartography.

Under Gerber’s leadership, the company and its partially owned subsidiaries helped advance the development of innovations in machine tools and medical, cryogenic, defense, and anti-terrorism products. In total, Gerber has more than 650 patents listed in his name.

Awards and Achievements

Gerber’s accomplishments earned him many awards and recognition. He was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 1982, and in 1989, Gerber received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Entrepreneurial Management.

President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology in 1994. After Gerber’s death, President Clinton was quoted as saying, “Joe had a profound impact on our nation during his rich life. His brilliant and innovative ideas helped prepare our nation for the technological advances of the next century.”

The Inventor’s Dilemma

Gerber’s life is well documented in The Inventor’s Dilemma: The Remarkable Life of H. Joseph Gerber, which was written by his son, David Gerber.

Read a review from Hartford Courant Reporter Dan Haar.


Photo: Joseph Gerber was the founder and chairman of Gerber Scientific Inc. (Photo courtesy National Academy of Engineering)