Barcode turns 45
When a pack of chewing gum carrying a Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned for the first time at an Ohio supermarket 45 years ago, nobody could have anticipated that the printed symbol would go on to power global commerce.
Today the barcode is scanned over six billion times a day and has paved the way for emerging technologies. The original UPC has grown into a global system that is used by over two million companies doing business in 150 countries across 25 industries. And it all goes back to that historic day on June 26, 1974, when the pack of Wrigley's chewing gum was scanned at a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio.
As GS1 US prepares to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the barcode, the company has looked back at how this concept evolved over the years.
"Since being introduced in the grocery sector, the barcode has enabled countless modern conveniences for consumers and paved the way for emerging technologies," said Bob Carpenter, president and CEO of GS1 US. "From same-day delivery to patient bedside scanning that ensures administration of the proper medication, millions of transactions and processes would not be possible without barcodes and the underlying standards that uniquely identify products, services, locations and more in real time. Very few other technologies have remained as relevant over four decades, nor have they grown in versatility."
The concept was first developed as a way to minimise long supermarket checkout lines while automatically capturing product information, reducing human error, and managing the large number of shoppers in the post-World War II baby boom era.
The concept evolved from a circular, bullseye-shaped design that incorporated lines and spaces into the linear UPC barcode that has become the industry standard.
In 1974 the Uniform Product Code Council, which was later named GS1, took over as the administrator of barcode standards, assisting owners to use the barcodes and numbering system that would identify products and provide details of pricing. The system made it possible for store owners to take better inventory records to ensure their shelves were stocked.
As technologies developed, so did the barcode. Today there are multiple versions and uses of the barcode. From QR codes to radio frequency identification (RFID) and other advanced barcodes- GS1 US has been driving industry collaborations to explore what the future for the barcode could hold.
"The last 45 years have taught us that barcodes and their unique identification numbers will always be foundational to commerce, particularly as shoppers continue to demand not only more product information to inform their purchase decision, but also fast delivery," said Mr Carpenter.