The History of Barcodes

Barcodes are used in applications in various industries and have turned out to be a key feature in increasing business efficiency and workforce productivity. Linear barcodes are made up of parallel bars and spaces in varying widths which can represent just about any data and facilitate automatic identification and faster data collection. Barcodes have evolved significantly from the original 1D or linear barcodes storing limited information to more advanced matrix or 2D barcodes that can store thousands of characters of data.

Initial Stage (1932 To 1967)
The idea of barcodes was first conceptualized by Wallace Flint in 1932 as a part of his Master’s thesis paper. He invented an automated checkout system for a grocery store using punched cards and flow racks to automatically dispense products. However, it is only in 1949 that modern day barcodes came into existence. Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver developed a bull’s eye style barcode as a part of university research project to develop an automated system to gather product information during checkout for a local food chain. Woodland drew inspiration from Morse code and movie soundtrack systems to invent modern barcodes.

David Collins, who worked in Sylvania, further developed the barcodes to address the problems faced in accurately tracking train cars. He developed a barcode with reflective stripes made from phosphorescent ink that can be easily read by light and pasted on train cars. Collins received several demands from various industries to launch a simpler version of his barcode to automate various business processes.

Middle Stage (1967 To 1970)
Collins, in 1967 quit Sylvania and founded Computer Identics. Later, he continued to work on automatic identification technology. He used black and white barcodes but the light source was replaced with a laser beam that scanned the barcodes from several feet away. The laser light source was smaller, cooler, and could move back and forth at faster rates over the barcodes and even read damaged or scratched barcodes. This new barcode system found application in production, shipping, sorting, distribution, etc.

Current Generation (After 1970’s)
The 1970’s saw barcodes transform from a raw concept to a viable enterprise technology. In mid 1970’s, the NAFC established US Supermarket Ad Hoc Committee of Uniform Grocery Product Code for grocery industry. The committee later formulated a standardized 12-digit code to identify any product and invited bids from companies wanting to develop the technology. IBM won the bid in 1973 with the barcode developed by George Laurer. The barcode is separated into halves of 6 digits each. The first digit is always zero while next 5 digits represent the manufacturer. The digits from 7 to 11 represent the product number or SKU, while the last digit is the check digit used for validation to check whether the code is correctly read. The barcode allows scanning in any direction and easy printing. On June 26th, 1974, a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum became the first item to be scanned by a barcode system using UPC (Universal Product Code).

Uses of Barcodes
Barcodes ensure automatic identification of a product and error free data capture in less time. It is due to this capability that barcodes are used in applications across different industries like food processing, healthcare, manufacturing and distribution, retail and wholesale, warehousing, shipping and receiving, transportation, etc. The barcodes can help to accurately identify fast selling products and thereby help make timely decisions to replenish these products. Barcodes help to reduce unwanted stock by effectively identifying slow moving products. Barcodes can uniquely identify customers through membership cards that help retailers gather customer shopping pattern information. Also, barcodes ensure efficient inventory tracking across various industries that help to reduced operating costs and provide competitive advantage.

Barcodes provide detailed information on various business processes and automate the routine manual activities and tasks that help management to make timely and informed decisions. Barcodes have proved to be an effective tool to increase productivity, profitability, and accuracy of business processes across various industries.

For over 20 years, System ID has provided automation solutions and barcoding equipment to a wide range of large and small companies in virtually every industry sector. System ID offers more than 10,000 brand name products and services such as zebra printers and barcode scanners.

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