While it may seem
like barcodes have been with us forever, barcodes didn’t
really make an impact until the 1970’s. It wasn’t
until 1974 that the first barcode scanner was employed and
the first product barcoded
But the idea had
been around for quite awhile. In 1932, Wallace Flint suggested
that an automated retail checkout system might be feasible.
While his concept was deemed unworkable, Flint continued to
support the idea of automated checkout throughout his career.
In fact, Flint, who went on to become the vice-president of
the association of food chains some 40 years later, was instrumental
in the development of the UPC code.
During the 40’s,
50’s and 60’s several code formats were developed
including a bull’s-eye code, numeral codes, and various
other formats. Retail applications drove the early technological
developments of bar coding, but industrial applications soon
Uses of Barcodes
In 1948, a local
food chain store owner approached Drexel Institute of Technology
in Philadelphia asking about research into a method of automatically
reading product information during checkout. Bernard Silver,
a graduate student at Drexel Institute, along with fellow
graduate student Norman Joseph Woodland, teamed together to
develop a solution.
proposed using ultraviolet light sensitive ink. A working
prototype was built but rejected as being too unstable and
On October 20,
1949, Woodland and Silver succeeded in building a working
prototype describing their invention as “article classification…through
the medium of identifying patterns”. On October 7, 1952,
they were granted a patent (US Patent #2,612,994) for their
“Classifying Apparatus and Method.
Efforts to develop
a working system accelerated in the 1960’s.
Bar coding was
first used commercially in 1966, but to make the system acceptable
to the industry as a whole there would have to be some sort
of industry standard. By 1970, Logicon Inc. had developed
the Universal Grocery Products Identification Code (UGPIC).
The first company to produce barcode equipment for retail
trade using (using UGPIC) was the American company Monarch
Marking (1970), and for industrial use, the British company
Plessey Telecommunications (1970).
In 1972, a Kroger
store in Cincinnati began using a bull’s-eye code. During
that same timeframe, a committee was formed within the grocery
industry to select a standard code to be used in the industry.
IBM proposed a design, based upon the UGPIC work and similar
to today’s UPC code. On April 3, 1973, the committee
selected the UPC symbol (based on the IBM proposal) as the
industry standard. The success of the system since then has
spurred on the development of other coding systems. George
J. Laurer is considered the inventor of U.P.C. or Uniform
First UPC Scanner
In June of 1974,
the first U.P.C. scanner was installed at a Marsh’s
supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The first product to have a barcode
was Wrigley’s Gum.
& Stripes first introduced