Heinz Joseph Gerber’s early life was fraught with peril. Born in Vienna, Austria to a Jewish family, he showed an early aptitude for technology: at age 8 he was building radios. But the Europe of his youth was in turmoil, and Gerber in 1938 found himself imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp.
Released in 1940, Gerber and his mother fled, penniless, to the United States, where they eventually settled in Hartford, Conn. Gerber learned English, finished high school in two years and earned a scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering.
While in college he invented a graphical calculator to plot numbers, which he called a Gerber Variable Scale, which resembles a slide rule. He later founded the Gerber Scientific Instrument Co. to market his invention. That company would grow in size and revenues over the ensuing decades, as Gerber’s subsequent inventions improved manufacturing automation systems and computer-assisted design systems for a range of industries.
In 1980, Gerber changed the company’s name to Gerber Scientific, the new name chosen to better reflect the company’s wide sphere of products and services. Gerber’s inventions – he held more than 600 patents — led to advancements in the manufacturing of a diverse range of products from apparel to prescription eyeglasses. Gerber’s variable scale, meanwhile, is housed as part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
By Robert Warren