Wonder Wednesday – Who Invented The Bar Code?

Since last Treasure Tuesday (the 7th) I talked about the age of a Coke bottle being 1980’s or later because the bar code wasn’t popular until the 1980’s. So I thought, what a fun topic for Wonder Wednesday! 😁

Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver patented the bar code in 1952. The thin and thick bars were based on Morse Code’s dits and dahs. Oh, and it was in the shape of a bullseye. o_O

Photo by Stephen Niemeier from Pexels

But it wasn’t until 1974 that the first bar code was scanned. By 1984, 33% of grocery stores were using bar codes.

Part of the reason it wasn’t used immediately was because they needed a strong light to read the code. The original prototype was as big as a desk and it had a 500-watt incandescent bulb – but even that wasn’t always accurate. The invention was judged to be 20 years ahead of its time.

In July of 1960, the laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) was invented. They said it was brighter than the center of the sun. While newspapers reported it as someone inventing the death ray, inventors saw it as an answer to the light problem. Theodore Maiman, the inventor of the laser, wrote that he didn’t expect the laser to be used for a checkout scanner when he created it.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Kroger was the first to use the bullseye bar code. The inventors thought the bullseye was the best design because it could be read accurately from any angle, but printing it was the problem. Any imperfection in the printing resulted in bad scans.

Different companies started making different versions of readable codes, causing a bit of chaos. And some manufacturers didn’t want to make their products look ugly with codes. πŸ˜†

There was a competition held for the best design for the bar code. According to an article by the Smithsonian:

Laurer was handed the specifications for a bar code that had been determined by the Symbol Selection Committee: it had to be small and neat, maximum 1.5 square inches; to save money it had to be printable with existing technology used for standard labels; it had been calculated that only ten digits were needed; the bar code had to be readable from any direction and at speed; there must be fewer than one in 20,000 undetected errors.

…that’s quite the specifications. o_O

Seven companies made a bid to the Ad Hoc Committee of the Universal Product Identification Code. The person who met those standards in his invention was George Laurer (from IBM).

The small town of Troy’s Marsh Supermarket in the small town of Troy in Miami County, Ohio was the first place the Universal Product Code was used. The one we know today. The first item scanned? A ten pack of Wrigley’s gum.

And that concludes this week of Wonder Wednesday! 😊