Barcode History: 5 Things You Didn’t Know about Barcodes

To highlight the journey of the barcode from idea to ubiquity we’ve taken a long look at barcode history, and assembled a list of our favorite fun and weird facts we found along the way. Check it out:

 

1.  The first use of the barcode was to label railroad cars

Most of us see barcodes on products such as the food we buy, books, movies, and basically every modern consumer good. The reality is that the use of barcodes on consumer goods came far after its original intended use—the labeling of railroad cars. That’s right, barcodes first came into use to mark railroad cars, although they weren’t universally accepted until grocery checkout systems were developed.

2.  The first barcode symbology was patented in 1952 and looks like a bullseye

In the late 1940’s, Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland began researching solutions to automatically read product information during grocery checkout after a request from the food chain, Food Fair.  Silver and Woodland are attributed with patenting the first ever barcode symbology (seen in featured image above), which looks just like a bullseye!

3.  The very first scanning of a UPC code was on a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum

In the summer of 1974 a UPC code was scanned for the first time at a grocery market in Ohio. At Marsh supermarket, a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum slid down the conveyer belt to  mark the first ever grocery item to be scanned.

4.  The Barcode Battler was one of the earliest mobile gaming consoles

Back in the early days of handheld gaming consoles (we’re talking 1991) there were very few players in the marketplace—Gameboy, Gamegear and Epoch’s Barcode Battler. The barcode gaming system came with a variety of cards containing barcodes, each representing a player, enemy or powerup. Players would then swipe the barcodes to initiate battle. The system never took off in North America or Europe, but was hugely popular in Japan where the culture embraced the idea of collecting and experimenting with barcodes.

 5.  UPC codes and the 666 controversy

No joke. The developer of the UPC code, George J. Laurer has had to make a public statement addressing the accusation that the guard bars on UPC’s are a code for “666”. Guard bars are bit containing patterns at the beginning, middle, and end of each UPC code, which resemble the coding for the number 6. Laurer has responded to accusations on his website by saying “there is nothing sinister about this nor does it have anything to do with the Bible’s ‘mark of the beast.’ It is simply a coincidence like the fact that my first, middle, and last name all have 6 letters.” Having nightmares about UPC codes? Blame George.

 

Barcodes are truly fascinating. They’ve inspired an entire new way of doing business, enabling seamless interaction with products from around the world. Beyond their everyday uses, barcodes have also inspired artwork, poetry, architecture, and people from around the world to push their creativity. Stay tuned for more posts on the amazing history of barcodes, and their many uses around the globe.

Have another fun barcode fact? Share it below!


 

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