H. Joseph Gerber (1924–1996) was the founder of the Gerber Scientific Instrument Company. Within the signage industry, Gerber is renowned for the development of the world’s first automated lettering system. Introduced in November 1982, Signmaker III created something of a revolution among signmakers and graphic artists, helping to usher them into the world of digital imaging. The Gerber Edge thermal transfer printer, introduced in 1993, became an ubiquitous piece of equipment used in thousands of sign shops.
However, beyond the sign industry Gerber was a prolific inventor, credited with 677 U.S. and foreign patents in his name. Several of his inventions are on display at the Smithsonian Institution. In 1994 President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology, crediting him for helping to revolutionize the optical, garment, automotive, and other industries.
Born in Austria to a Jewish family, Gerber was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp at age 15, but managed to escape. He came to the United States in 1940 and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) on scholarship, graduating with a B.S. degree in aeronautical engineering in 1946. While in is junior year at RPI, Gerber developed his first invention, the Gerber Variable Scale, which was hailed as the most revolutionary engineering tool since the slide rule. With the Variable Scale as his first manufactured product, and a $3,000 investment, Gerber Scientific was born.