The Barcode Celebrates 50 Years of Successful Reading

On June 26, 1974, at 8:01 a.m., an Ohio drive-thru sold the first mass consumer product with the successful reading of the “parallel lines” code in rectangular format, the barcode. The product was a 25-cent pack of Wrigley’s gum. As a result of updates to the numerical recording system, the inventory and accounting downloads identified the item.

The chewing gum and receipt of purchase are at the Smithsonian Institution, a museum research center administered by the U.S. government.

Its first two numbers refer to the country of origin. The following five refer to the manufacturer, and the subsequent ones to the number the company gave the product in its internal catalog. Finally, the last number is an automatic control number generated by an algorithm to prevent any error in reading.

The barcode today

The barcode invented by the Americans Joseph Woodland, Bernard Silver, and Jordin Johanson, patented on October 7, 1952, was not followed by immediate success. It took more than two decades to pass before its practical application. However, it was the one that marked the beginning that helped to improve the commerce industry.

After 50 years of that “first successful laser scanning,” today, it is repeated more than six billion times a day everywhere in the world.

They are scanned from mass consumer products to identity documents, passing through clinical centers and entry to establishments. The barcode is used in manufacturing machine components, automobiles, airplanes, and spacecraft, among other uses.

Related Article: Repurposing the “Made in China” Label

With the advent of wireless communication devices at the end of the last century, the barcode adjusted to the technology, giving way to new forms of use. For example, two-dimensional codes, which read horizontally and vertically.

Some of the most common two-dimensional codes are QR and BIDI. Other systems are EAN-13 and EAN-8, used mainly for consumer products to scan items at a point-of-sale (POS).

However, the world recognizes the characteristic “bit-bit-bit,” which has been jingling on cash registers for half a century, could be displaced by the new RFID technology.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a remote data storage and retrieval system that uses devices called “transponders” (tags and cards). Their technological purpose is to transmit the identity of an object (similar to a unique serial number) using radio waves.

This technology is grouped within the Auto-ID (automatic identification) for identifying and reviewing objects and is like a “fingerprint” of commerce.

Nevertheless, the invention patented 72 years ago by Woodland, Silver, and Johanson will continue as the principle that fine-tuned the commerce industry, helping to consolidate the modern economy.

The world we live in today would be sustainable without this fingerprint, or rather, without the barcode.