History of Barcodes

Learn about the invention of barcodes and UPC through a short story told by Elie Touma, CEO of ASAP Systems.

In this video we are going to define what a UPC is and what a barcode is. To start that definition we have to go all the way back in history to 1836 when Samuel Morse invented the Morse Code. The Morse Code is a re-representation of the alphabet in dashes and dots. So for example, the letter “A” is a dot and a dash. The letter “B” is a dash with 3 dots. The letter “C” is a dash, dot, dash, dot, and so on and so forth.

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So why is this important? The reason why it is important to the history of barcodes is because, fast-forward to 1948, to supermarket executives were having an issue with identifying the products at checkout. So they needed some time of code or some time of technology to identify the product at checkout at supermarkets. When they were having that discussion, two student grads, Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland, overheard that conversation. Fast-forward a little bit from them overhearing a conversation…that conversation stuck in Norman Woodland’s mind throughout the years. Over time he went to college, he finished college, he got a job. Eventually he quit the job, cashed in some stocks, moved to Florida, lived with his grandma at her apartment, and one day he was on the beach still think about how to solve that problem. He started drawing on the sand those dots and dashes. And eventually he would put his finger on the dot and draw a line down. He would put his fingers on the dashes and draw lines down. And that’s basically how he came up with the striped representation of the alphabet. And this is basically the birth of barcodes.

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Fast-forward a little bit, now in 1952 he went and patented that technology, and that invention, and that idea. By then he was about 31 years old. So he patented it, worked for IBM, and pitched it to IBM. IBM didn’t really see the relevance of the technology at that time, so he sold the patent for $15,000 to RCA. RCA had it. Now let’s fast-forward a little more to 1968, the patent expired, but by then IMB had realized the need, understood the technology, and realized that Norman Woodland was the father of that technology. So they put him on a special team of identifying products on checkout. And this is when that team eventually put together the universal product code, which is also known as UPC code. And this is the barcode you see on every product, like the Coca Cola product. Any product you see in supermarket, they have that barcode, that’s called the UPC code, and it was invented back then. So they invented that technology…fast-forward by a few years to 1971, this is when the first product was ever scanned by the barcode. That product was a pack of chewing gum. Thank you, and have a great day, bye.


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