The ubiquitous barcode that we see on everything we buy, from packs of chewing gum to giant screen TVs had its beginnings, oddly enough, in the Great Depression. At the time, the store used punch cards to speed up the buying process, but it was soon abandoned as being too costly to continue.
It wasn’t until 1948 when the first barcodes emerged. Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland implemented the first scanning system that used ultraviolet ink. It proved costly and the ink often faded, so it was hardly considered a success.
Undeterred, Woodland developed barcodes from Morse Code by extending the dashes and dots to lines, making wide lines from the dashes and thin lines from the dots. He also tried circular codes that can be read from any direction. Using the technology from movie projectors, he and Silver came up with a system that could read the codes and patented the technology, receiving their patent in 1952.
In 1951, Woodland joined IBM and tried to interest IBM in developing the technology. IBM found the concept interesting but the technology not available at the time to make it practical. Woodland sold the patent to Philco and it sold it to RCA later.
David Collins worked on tracking railroad cars at GTE Sylvania, after working for the Pennsylvanian Railroad during his undergraduate studies. Although the system had problems due to problems with dirt, it eventually was used on a toll booth and inventorying dog food.
Collins eventually quit Sylvania and started Computer Identics Corporation and created systems for General Motors to identify parts and for General Trading Company for inventory control.
Universal Product Code
The Universal Product Code was developed in response to the National Association of Food Chain’s to develop a barcode system in 1966. RCA attended and offered to produce a reader which Kroger, the grocery chain, offered to test it and it went into production in 1973. By 1974, IBM came up with the UPC and the modern barcode was accepted. Now that UPC is used on everything for inventory and purchase.