It happens many millions of times each day around the world ― the coded magnetic strip on a plastic credit card is automatically read to complete a purchase. The same technology makes it possible to use an ATM and to pay for riding on a subway or bus with a paper fare card. And it’s all thanks to the role played by NJIT alum Arthur Hahn, formerly of Matawan and Edison, in the introduction of this indispensable innovation. For this body of work, Hahn received on May 22, 2010, the NJIT Alumni Achievement Award. Hahn now lives in San Diego.
In the early 1970s, Hahn headed a small group at IBM charged with finding a practical way to incorporate a magnetic strip on plastic and paper cards using the “bar code” that the company had developed. As Hahn relates, “IBM understood the potential of the technology, and we had the assignment of determining the best method for putting that magnetic strip on plastic and paper cards and designing a fully automated production line.” IBM had also convinced the National Retail Merchants Association to adopt their magnetic bar code as a standard, and the success of Hahn and his team would transform shopping and other daily activities.
Yet this is not the only highlight of Hahn’s career. He contributed to pioneering research in wireless communications and later launched a company that made a major change in the way electricity is metered.
Hahn came to IBM via RCA Laboratories and Taft Electro Systems. After high school in Matawan he attended the RCA Institute, becoming an electronics technician at the company’s world famous research organization in Princeton. While with RCA, he attended Newark College of Engineering at night, completing a BS in electrical engineering in 1969. At RCA, he also participated in the invention of the first low-power chip for FM wireless communications. Hahn is named on the 1969 patent for this revolutionary contribution to wireless technology.
Attracted by opportunities in the emerging field of computers, Hahn moved on to Taft Electro Systems in Edison, where he designed a digital computer used by Grumman Aviation to download operational data from fighter aircraft on the tarmac. “This work made me a perfect fit for the job at IBM, in their Information Records Division,” he says.
But Hahn admits that he’s a “restless entrepreneur.” After his magnetic code breakthrough at IBM, he started a company to market a product he conceived for metering electricity ― the first digital kilowatt meter. The new firm ― E-Mon ― met the demand for “sub-metering.” E-Mon units support tenant billing, cost allocation, demand management and energy conservation for multi-family homes, apartment complexes, commercial buildings, government facilities and college campuses.
Now living in San Diego, Hahn is retired from active participation in the highly successful E-Mon enterprise. He keeps a hand in business with activities that include real estate, and he travels widely. Speaking about a recent trip to China, he touched on the significance of education in that country’s rise to economic power, and in his own life.
“You can’t ask the right questions if you don’t know what you don’t know. NJIT deserves a great deal of credit for giving me the tools to ask the right questions and to make a difference in people’s lives,” Hahn says. “These days, it’s amazing to see what the entrepreneurial spirit and education are achieving in China. I think education is really the solution for all the world’s problems.”