COSAM News Articles 2020 January Carl Harry Knowles

Carl Harry Knowles

Published: 01/13/2020

Carl Harry Knowles

Inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist C. Harry Knowles, 91, of Medford, N.J., died January 7, 2020, leaving behind a legacy of improved lives via the technology he created, the jobs he provided, the teachers and students he inspired, and through nurturing friends and family with his generous spirit and mentoring drive.

He is survived by his great love, wife and noted longtime Philadelphia pediatric neuropathologist Lucy B. Rorke-Adams, whom Dr. Knowles credited with being his guiding example of steadfast faith, leading him from doubt to Christian profession. With Dr. Rorke-Adams, he attended First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown; shared academic, philanthropic, and cultural pursuits, including The Metropolitan Opera; and enjoyed the company of those dear to their hearts.

Dr. Knowles is also survived by three children, Harry Holmes Knowles, of Burlington, Vt.; Robert Knowles of Alexandria, Va.; and Marjorie Knowles of Asheville, N.C. Other survivors include a brother, Bill Penn, of Birmingham, Ala.; a sister-in-law, Ruth Ramsey, also of Birmingham; and several nieces, nephews, and extended family members.

Dr. Knowles held roughly 400 U.S. patents in transistors, lasers, and bar code scanning technology, a feat which places him among our nation’s most prolific inventors. He spent the better part of 40 years as head of a global bar code scanner company, Metrologic Instruments, Inc., which he founded in New Jersey in 1968. However, he considered his greatest legacy to be his philanthropic efforts as founder of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, which supports excellence in high school math and science teaching.

Born August 15, 1928, in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Knowles developed a keen interest in science and photography from an early age. He grew up in Birmingham and Houston, Texas, graduating from Birmingham’s Ensley High School in 1945.

He attended Auburn University (then Alabama Polytechnic Institute, API) 1945-1946 and 1948-1951, receiving a bachelor’s degree in physics from Auburn in August 1951. While a student at Auburn, he competed on Auburn’s first wrestling team; joined Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity; organized API’s national physics honor society, Sigma Pi Sigma, chapter (and served as its first president); edited the 1951 Glomerata (the student yearbook); and was selected for the Spades campus leadership organization. Dr. Knowles credited his choice of major to professor Howard Carr (1915-2003), who later became head of API’s physics department. Dr. Carr became Dr. Knowles’ mentor and lifelong measure of the fundamentals of science and quality teaching.

Dr. Knowles served in the Marine Corps 1946-1948. Following training at Parris Island, S.C., he was assigned to Henderson Hall on the edge of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, serving as a guard before special assignment to the recreational facilities.

After receiving a master’s degree in physics from Vanderbilt University in 1953, Dr. Knowles began working for Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, where he joined the explosion of technological developments enabled by the invention of the transistor. His work on germanium transistors contributed greatly to Project Vanguard, the nation’s first satellite, and the Nike Zeus anti-aircraft missile system. His germanium transistor provided the higher frequency needed for Project Vanguard’s satellite transmitter and subsequently filled the speed requirements of Nike Zeus.

His germanium mesa transistors served the significant computer models of the late 1950s and 1960s and were a major product line, along with silicon transistors, at Motorola, where Dr. Knowles moved in 1958 as mesa transistor product manager before being promoted in 1961 to assistant general manager for research and development. While there, he developed a “star transistor” which became the universally recognized standard, the 2N2222 transistor, a medium-high-speed switch used in billions of devices and still a popular component today.

During his tenure at Westinghouse 1962-1968, then molecular electronics division general manager Knowles developed and presented, at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference in 1964, the basic concepts of and precursor to the renowned Moore’s Law forecasting model for the semiconductor industry. Named after Gordon Moore, who was one of the founders of Intel Corporation, Moore’s Law states that the complexity of circuits (measured by the number of transistors) doubles approximately every two years and became a driving force in the creation of increasingly smaller and faster integrated circuits produced at decreasing cost.

In 1968, Dr. Knowles established his own company, Metrologic Instruments, Inc., which progressed from producing lasers to educational kits to a plethora of scanning products sold in more than 100 countries worldwide. Headquartered in Blackwood, New Jersey, Metrologic, at its height, employed more than 1,500 people. During the nearly 40 years Dr. Knowles led Metrologic (before his final retirement in 2007), the United States saw the integration of lasers into countless technologies and the birth of the Universal Product Code, better known as the bar code, which changed the grocery, retail, and mailing industries and enhanced patient safety. Dr. Knowles’ and Metrologic’s inventions were integral to ushering handheld laser scanners as well as triggerless, omnidirectional, and mini-slot scanners, into the retail market. Within his scanners, Dr. Knowles used an array of technologies from lasers to holography to camera-based systems to radio-frequency identification. In 2008, Honeywell International bought Metrologic Instruments, which, under Dr. Knowles’ leadership, had become a pioneering force in the data-capture industry.

Inspired by his experience with his Auburn mentor and concerned about math and science deficits he saw in potential employees, in 1999, Dr. Knowles established the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (re-named the Knowles Teacher Initiative in 2017), which provides support—including networking, professional development, mentoring, and funding—to increase the number of high-quality high school math and science teachers across the country. Each year, the Knowles Teacher Initiative awards highly competitive five-year fellowships (each valued at more than $150,000) to exceptional early-career teachers. These fellowships improve teacher retention, with 82 percent of KTI fellows remaining in the classroom after five years. To date, 405 KTI fellows teach in 43 states; since the program’s inception, KTI fellows have taught more than 200,000 students nationwide.

In June 2019, Dr. Knowles and his wife, Dr. Rorke-Adams, added to his dedication to the 20-year-old foundation with a $30 million commitment to ensure KTI continues to raise U.S. math and science skills. At the time of the gift, Dr. Knowles said, “A strong foundation in physics laid the groundwork for my success as an inventor and the founder of Metrologic Instruments. Lucy and I are honored to be able to pay it forward by supporting beginning math and science teachers.”

Dr. Knowles is the recipient of many honors, including induction into the New Jersey Business Hall of Fame, inventor and entrepreneur of the year awards, and two presidential “E” and “E Star” awards for export success. A longtime Moorestown, N.J., resident, Dr. Knowles was an elected township council member 1980-1988 and served as Moorestown Rotary Club president in 1983-1984. In addition to his other endeavors, he was the 1964 Chesapeake Bay Men’s Sailing Champion and had been an instrument-rated commercial pilot, an amateur astronomer, and a dedicated photography enthusiast. He was honored by Auburn University in 2006 as a College of Sciences and Mathematics Distinguished Alumnus; in 2007, with a Lifetime Achievement Award; and, in 2008, with Auburn University’s highest recognition—an honorary doctorate.

A life member of the Auburn Alumni Association, Dr. Knowles served as a member of the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) Dean’s Leadership Council for two decades and was a member of several Auburn University donor societies: Foy Society, 1856 Society, and the George Petrie Society. During his many years of supporting AU, he established the Howard E. and Carolyn T. Carr Endowed Professorship, C. Harry Knowles Endowed Professorship for Leadership in Research or Outreach to Enhance Science Teaching and Learning, C. Harry Knowles Endowed Professorship for Research Leadership in Mathematics Instruction, and the Dr. C. Harry Knowles and Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams Endowed Fund for Excellence in the Auburn University Libraries. The lead donor for the Stewart W. Schneller Endowed Chair, he also supported the Mathematics Learning Center building project and COSAM undergraduate scholarships and faculty research.

Dr. Knowles’ life story is recounted in his authorized biography, Genius in America: The Story of C. Harry Knowles, Inventor. Many of his papers and photographs, donated by Dr. Knowles, are preserved as the C. Harry Knowles Collection at the Auburn University Department of Special Collections and Archives. (The digitized photo collection can be found at and includes one-of-a-kind glimpses of Auburn life 1945-1951 as well as rare campus aerials.)

While Dr. Knowles’ vision for elevating math and science education works toward the goal of increased skills in a new generation of young people, Dr. Knowles knew those skills had to be applied to one’s chosen life’s work. He often talked of finding purpose and pursuing it with passion for ultimate impact and joy. “You must follow your dreams,” Dr. Knowles said in a 2008 commencement address. “Do what you love to do. Pass up the seduction of money, popularity, and expediency. In pursuit of success, you will fail, as I have, many, many times. You need to love what you do from dawn to dusk to pick up the pieces and put the next day together with the kind of enthusiasm it takes.”

His words echoed those of an earlier interview: “Kids wonder what to do with their lives. They say, ‘I want to make a lot of money.’ What are you going to do with a lot of money? You can’t buy happiness. But, boy, if you do what you like, you’ll make out okay, probably better than okay, financially; and, more importantly, you’ll live a life that you’re proud of.”

A memorial service for Dr. Knowles will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, January 18, at the First Presbyterian Church in Moorestown, N.J. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts should be made to the First Presbyterian Church Music Fund, 101 Bridgeboro Rd., Moorestown, NJ 08057.

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