Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Heinz Joseph Gerber Papers

Collection ID:
Gerber, H. Joseph, 1924-1996
1924 - 1999
Physical Description:
3 Cubic feet
Records document the life and career of H. Joseph Gerber, inventor and president of Gerber Scientific, Inc. Gerber was known for his invention of the variable scale, GERBERcutter S-70, and other automated industrial devices. The records include personal records, correspondence, biographical sketches, photographs, publicity, journals and magazines, clippings, speeches, award information, and one audio recording.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The Heinz Joseph Gerber Papers document Gerber's personal life and career as an inventor and president of Gerber Scientific, Inc. The records are arranged into six series and consist of biographical records, documentation of the
Young Man in a Hurry
broadcast, correspondence, publicity, speeches, and award records.

The collection is organized into six series.
Series 1: Biographical, 1924-1997
Series 2: Young Man in a Hurry, 1950, 1986
Series 3: Correspondence, 1943-1996
Series 4: Publicity, 1949-1995
Subseries 1: Articles, 1950-1995
Subseries 2: Clippings, 1949-1994
Subseries 3: Publicity, 1949
Series 5: Speeches, 1952-1996
Series 6: Awards, 1952-1997
Subseries 1: Outstanding Young Man of the Year, 1952-1955
Subseries 2: R.P.I. Honorary Degree, 1981
Subseries 3: Textile Institute Companion Status, 1992-1994
Subseries 4: National Medal of Technology, 1993-1995
Subseries 5: Heinz Award, 1995
Subseries 6: Other Awards, 1988-1997

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Heinz Joseph "Joe" Gerber was born in Vienna, Austria, on April 17, 1924. In 1940, Gerber escaped the Nazis and immigrated to New York City and then to Hartford, Connecticut, with his mother Bertha Gerber, a dressmaker. Gerber's father, Jacob, is presumed to have died in a concentration camp. Gerber attended Weaver High School and graduated in two years (1943). He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, on a scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1947. As a junior at RPI, Gerber developed the Gerber Variable Scale, his first invention. The earliest version of the variable scale was fashioned from an elastic band removed from a pair of pajamas. Gerber created a rubber rule and scale that could flow with a curve, expand, contract, and turn a corner. The scale allows for direct reading of curves, graphs, and graphical representations, giving direct numerical readings of proportions, spacing and interpolation. The Variable Scale became the building block of what would become Gerber Scientific Instrument Inc.
With financial assistance from Abraham Koppleman, a newspaper and magazine distributor in Hartford, Gerber and Koppleman formed a partnership and incorporated Gerber Scientific Instrument Company in 1948. Gerber served as president, Koppleman as treasurer, and Stanley Levin as secretary. The manufacture of the Variable Scale was jobbed out and the distribution was conducted from Hartford. Gerber also worked as a design analytical engineer for Hamilton Standard Propellers of United Aircraft and for Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Shares of Gerber Scientific Instrument Company were eventually sold to the public in 1961, and in 1978, the company changed its name to Gerber Scientific, Inc. In 1967, Gerber realized that the U.S. garment industry, due to a lack of automation, was faced with increasing overseas competition. Gerber's solution was to engineer the GERBERcutter S-70, a machine that cuts apparel quickly and effectively while using less cloth.In the 1960s and 1970s, Gerber developed the first series of precision, computer-driven cutting systems for the apparel industry called the Gerber Cutter. The cutters introduced automation to the garment industry.
Gerber holds more than 600 United States and foreign patents. Many of his patents relate to the United States apparel industry. In 1994, Gerber was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Clinton for helping to revolutionize the optical, garment, automotive, and other industries. His pioneering achievements include:
-a generation of data readers (electromechanical devices that converted graphical data directly into computer readable format)
-projection systems that interactively converted information from aerial photographs for use in computers
-devices that plotted digital output data from computer cards or tape
-digital numerically-controlled drafting machines which verified the accuracy of the cutting path of numerical machine tools
-a photoplotter (drafting machine configured with a unique light source to directly draw high accuracy layouts of printed circuit board masters on photographic film or glass with light beams)
-systems with laser technology to draw at high speeds
Subsequent subsidiaries of Gerber Scientific, Inc., were: Gerber Garment Technology, Inc. (GGT); Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. (GSP); Gerber Systems Corp. (GSC), and Gerber Optical, Inc., (GO). GGT makes computer-controlled cutting and design equipment for apparel, automotive, aerospace and other industries. GSP produces systems for sign-making and graphic arts industries. GSC makes production systems for printing, industrial machinery and other industries. GO makes equipment for the optical-lens manufacturing industry.
In 1954, Gerber married Sonia Kanciper. They had a daughter, Melisa Tina Gerber, and a son, David Jacques Gerber. H. Joseph Gerber died on August 9, 1996, at the age of 72.
National Medal of Technology, 1994.
W. Joseph Campbell, "High Tech and Low Key as Gerber Scientific Mounts a Recovery Philosophy that Reflects Innovative Founder," Hartford Courant, May 16, 1994.

Tyler Stump
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Archives Center received a twenty-four (24) cubic foot addendum of archival material from David Gerber, son of of Joe Gerber in 2014. The addendum was separated into two collections--the Gerber Scientific Instrument Company Records (AC0929) and the Heinz Joseph Gerber Papers (AC01336).
Processing Information
Processed by Tyler Stump (intern), finding aid written by Tyler Stump (intern), June 2015. Some personal records from the Gerber Scientific Instrument Company Records (AC929) were removed and inserted into the Heinz Joseph Gerber Papers when it was created. Records removed from the Gerber Scientific Instrument Company Records nclude one recording of
Young Man in a Hurry
(cassette tape) and records documenting Gerber's life, career, and awards.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Preferred Citation
Heinz Joseph Gerber Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Inventions Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hartford (Conn.) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Inventors Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Clippings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Articles Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Speeches Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Immigrants -- 20th century Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Machine-tools Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Machine-tool industry Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gerber Scientific Instrument Company (Hartford, Conn.). Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
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