History of Barcodes

As consumers, we purchase items every day at the store and check out fairly quickly, all with the push of a few buttons and a quick scan of our items at the cash register. But where did the idea to quickly identify, price, and catalog items first come from? It all began with something called a barcode. The first barcode was patented in 1952 by two men named Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver. The original look of the barcode was a series of concentric circles that looked similar to a bullseye. Bernard Silver graduated from the Drexel Institute of Technology in Pennsylvania. A small grocery store owner who understood the need for maintaining inventory and keeping track of sales once asked him if he had any solutions to his problems with tacking and maintaining inventory and sales. Silver decided to join forces with a fellow graduate and friend, Joseph Woodland, to help him with the project to remedy the grocery store owners problem. Together, the two created the first method of tracking inventory and products via ultraviolet light, also known as the barcode.

The Barcode

The first prototype for the barcode involved ultraviolet light, and an ink that was sensitive to the light. The prototype failed, but it helped them to work on new, more innovative ways to implement the code. The first format of the barcode was not a thin strip of different sized black lines, but instead had a “bullseye” rounded shape to it. Once a working barcode was developed, the concept took on and was used in retail stores. In 1966, the National Association of Food Chains began exploring more automated ways to check products out to customers at the check-out line. The patent for the barcode had already been purchased at that time, and so it was soon a hot commodity. Many different requests were made to change and update the barcode, and pleas were made to a variety of companies such as Singer, IBM, Pitney Bowes, and many others. By 1971, the bullseye barcode was presented at an industry meeting and IBM took a sincere interest in it. Soon, IBM had created their own barcode system, which was later broadly used in both supermarkets and retail stores. At that time, the codes were printed individually on paper and manually applied to products. The very first large commercial barcode was used on a pack of Wrigley’s Gum in 1974. Today, that same receipt is on display at the Smithsonian Museum, making it a true testament to the ingenious American inventors of the past.

The QR Code

Today, barcodes are taking on a whole new look and a whole new role. A QR code, also known as a Quick Response Code, is the modern form of the barcode. These codes are square shaped and contain smaller black squares inside. When scanned with a mobile phone or other qr code decoder device, the QR code redirects the user to a website, multimedia video, or photo offering more information. Essentially, a QR code is an encrypted code that can contain a large volume of information and can direct someone to a different place, such as a website. QR codes are popular in advertising and in retail stores, and are typically used by manufacturers to encourage shoppers to find out more about their products. The QR code has taken the world by storm, and is now even used in the classroom as a way to help encourage students to discover more about a particular topic or subject. They are also commonly seen in magazine ads. While the traditional barcode is still used on just about everything people purchase, the QR code is quickly catching up as the next revolutionary form of the barcode.

For more information on barcodes and QR codes, please refer to the following websites: