The barcode is turning 50, but who gets the credit for it is up for debate

The barcode is 50 years old.

The barcode is turning 50, but who gets the credit for it is up for debate



The Universal Product Code is the most widely used tracking tool in the world. Every day, billions of items are scanned in industries ranging from movie theaters to airlines. UPCs, which use laser technology, have revolutionized the retail industry, allowing for big-box retailers, easy returns, global inventory, and self-checkouts (which are not popular).

Neil Saunders said that the barcode has had a'revolutionary impact'. Retailers can use barcodes because they are'more cost-effective and efficient' and offer greater flexibility in pricing. A barcode is used to identify almost all products today.

Who was the first to arrive?

Like many other great inventions the barcode is also contested, initially opposed by its industry, and many claim credit for the success it has achieved.

It's not in doubt that Americans were tired of standing in long queues at the checkout counter during the post-World War II boom. As early as 1940, a system was being developed to speed up supermarkets.

Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland received a patent in 1952 for a barcode system. Woodland said later that the pattern had been inspired by Morse Code he learned as a Boy Scout.

Their prototype looked like a bulls-eye, with concentric circles of lines, making it difficult to read. Laser-powered optical scanners took time to catch up, and barcodes were not a practical solution for large-scale use until recently.

Canning companies are not fond of it

RCA, IBM, Food Fair, Kroger and Sainsbury's, all of which are based in the UK, were also developing prototypes and projects. They were met with resistance. Smithsonian Magazine reported in 2015 that canners and grocery stores initially opposed the universal barcode system. The speed and convenience eventually won out over the opponents.

The barcode was not implemented in practice until the 1960s. David J. Collins was a civil engineering at Sylvania Electrics Lab. He pioneered the use of flashes of lights to scan barcodes. Initially, barcodes were used to track railroad cars, by labeling them in patterns of bars of various colors. The Wall Street Journal acknowledges Collins' invention of the barcode in an obituary published in 2022.

Barcodes celebrate their birthday on April 3, 1973, the date when the IBM version created by George Laurer as a senior engineer was accepted as an industry standard.

In Laurer’s New York Times obituary from 2019, he was credited as being the creator and developer of barcodes, even though it noted that Laurer did not receive any royalties.

The first barcoded item was scanned at Marsh's Supermarket outside Troy, Ohio in the summer of 1974. This marked the beginning of the technological revolution. The first item to be scanned was the 10-pack of Wrigley Juicy Fruit gum. It cost $1.39 at that time.