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The Barcode’s 35th Birthday

Today, June 26, 2009, the barcode turns 35.

The modern barcode began in 1948. Bernard Silver, a graduate student at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, overheard the president of a local food chain asking one of the deans to undertake research to develop a system to automatically read product information during checkout. Silver told his friend Norman Joseph Woodland about the food chain president’s request.

Most barcode histories state that the Woodland and Silver barcode was a “bull’s eye” symbol made up of a series of concentric circles. While Woodland and Silver did describe such a symbol, the basic symbology was described as a straight line pattern quite similar to present day 1D barcode.

In June 1974, one of the first UPC scanners, made by NCR Corp. (which was then called National Cash Register Co), was installed at Marsh’s supermarket in Troy, Ohio. On June 26, 1974, the first product with a barcode was scanned at a check-out counter. It was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum. The pack of gum wasn’t specially designated to be the first scanned product. It just happened to be the first item lifted from the cart by a shopper whose name is long since lost to history. Today, the pack of gum is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

In 1962 Bernard Silver died at age thirty-eight before having seen the commercial use of barcode. Norman Woodland was awarded the 1992 National Medal of Technology by President Bush. Neither man made much money on the idea that started a billion dollar business.

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