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

At Scandit, we build mobile barcode scanning, text and object recognition solutions to help today’s enterprises work more efficiently. From retail self-checkout apps to patient verification tools for healthcare, we support a wide variety of industries with high-performance barcode scanning.

We’re fascinated by the barcode, and not just because it’s a useful tool for businesses and consumers. These compact codes of data built a fascinating history on their journey from idea to ubiquity. We decided to celebrate that history by compiling a list of our favorite, little-known facts about barcodes. 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.

Today, barcodes are used to streamline tasks, identify items and create new efficiencies across a huge span of businesses. Explore our industries page for more context on the different use cases for barcodes—and how Scandit can help you drive positive business results with them. 

2. The First Barcode Symbology Was Patented in 1952 & Looks Like a Bullseye

In the late 1940s, 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 the featured image above), which looks just like a bullseye!

Indeed, barcodes and grocery stores share a close connection—which has extended to many other types of retailers over time. Check out our retail page to see how modern retailers are using barcodes to reduce costs, improve efficiency and create game-changing shopping experiences for their customers. 

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.

In the here and now, barcodes are used for much more than identifying items in-store. As more and more of us have made the transition to buying groceries online, barcodes have been deployed to support a range of delivery workflows, too. View our Post, Parcel & Express page for more insight on how barcodes can simplify tasks like loading, sorting, tracking and delivering items. 

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. This “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.

The iconic Barcode Battler wasn’t the only innovation across the history of the barcode. In fact, this technology is still finding new applications and use cases across business operations today. Check out some of our videos and other resources to learn more about the latest breakthroughs in the world of barcodes. 

5. Medication Barcodes Were Made Mandatory in 2004

In February 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that barcodes must be applied on certain medications. Since then, barcodes on medication have included National Drug Codes, which are unique 11-character ID numbers for each type of drug. This small change made identifying and distributing medication to patients much easier.

Barcode technology has evolved to help healthcare providers tackle many other challenges across care environments, driving facility efficiency and superior treatment outcomes in the process. Explore our healthcare page for more details on how barcode scanning is redefining and improving patient care. 

Barcode Scanning for the Modern Enterprise

Barcodes are truly fascinating. Beyond their everyday uses, barcodes have also inspired artwork, poetry, architecture and people from around the world to push their creativity. 

Connect with us today for more information on barcode technology—and its many uses around the globe. You can also reach out for more specifics on how our mobile barcode scanning solution can support your unique business. 


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