Barcode History: The Steps Between Black Lines and Your Groceries

Every time you shop, the items you buy get scanned and put neatly away in a bag for you to take home. That barcode gives the cash register the price of the item and updates the store’s inventory at the same time. It’s a super convenient feature that makes shopping easier for the consumer and the store owner.

Have you ever stopped to think about how that system came to be? This sophisticated technology has an interesting background! Read on to learn about barcode history!

Barcode History Started at the Beach

Yes, the barcode has an origin story. The need for the barcode began in the 1930s when grocery stores were looking for new ways to make the grocery selling process more efficient. Most importantly, they needed a way to track their inventory.

Initially, a Harvard student suggested that stores use a punch-card system, but the idea was scrapped due to expense. Fast forward to the late 1940s and a conversation between Drexel Institute of Technology students Bernard Silver and Joseph Woodland. They wanted to find a way to collect product information at supermarket checkout stands.

Then Woodland moved to Miami Beach and found inspiration and started mapping out the barcode system in the sand. Inspired by the morse code, he wanted a small code that could be printed out on groceries and scanned at checkout. From there, the barcode was born!

Between the Lines

The barcode system is an extension of the morse code. Woodland started by drawing out lines and dots in the sand, and then pulled his hand toward him to create lines of varying width. The end result was a system of lines that had different widths and spacing between each other that can be read by a laser. 

The patent for the barcode was filed in 1949, but it wasn’t until the 60s when a form of the barcode came into use on a large scale. Products were initially labeled with bull’s eye-shaped code that could be read from multiple angles. It wasn’t until 1973 when scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided that the rectangular barcode was the best system for scanning.

Evolution of the Barcode

Woodland’s barcode is still in wide use today, but the technology has continued to evolve. This barcode generator helps small stores generate their own barcodes for use in their store. 

One of the latest iterations of the barcode is the QR code, a system of squares that can be read by a cellphone and take consumers to curated content and websites. The barcode truly helped businesses become more productive in its short history, and it is sure to continue to evolve in new and exciting ways.

Get Scanning!

Barcode history is a super interesting topic. It’s amazing how a tiny part of product packaging can have such a tremendous impact on the shopping process. This technology is sure to continue to evolve as new products come out, so keep an eye out for the latest!

Did you love this information about barcode history? There’s more where that came from! Check out the rest of our blog for everything you need to know about business products to new technology!

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