Invention Of The Barcode

The bar code is a really a brilliant invention. It has simplified the entire shopping experience, making it quick and easy to add shopping items to a bill. But it didn’t fall out of the sky, someone had to invent it first.

The invention of the bar code came out of a very real and pressing need to speed up the shopping check out process. As is often the case with innovations, the invention of the bar code happened serendipitously.

It started in 1948, Bernard Silver was a graduate student at the Drexel Institute of Technology was listening to the president of Food Fair, a Pennsylvanian food chain, talk to the dean of the Institute about the need for a system to quickly add up product information at the check out counter. He quickly saw the opportunity to develop the technology, spoke to a friend of his, Norman Joseph Woodland, about the idea, and they soon started working on a system.

Silver and Woodland’s original plan for the bar code invention was to use ultraviolet ink, but this proved too costly. So like all successful inventors, they continued to work at the idea. Woodland then moved to Florida, and decided to try out something that involved morse codes, by simply extending the lines of the morse code downward to create lines. The invention of the bar code started taking shape.

But it was one thing to generate what would later be known as the bar code, and another thing to read them. Woodland started working on technology to read bar codes, modifying technology from optical soundtracks. Eventually the two friends had developed enough proprietary technology to file a patent application, which they entitled “Classifying Apparatus and Method”.

It was many more years, and several developments later, until a useable technology was implemented in stores in the US. A trial system was implemented in 1972 in a store chain in Cincinnati. But it took another two years for the bar code technology to get more widespread exposure, and the cumbersome process and minimal cost savings had some predicting the death of the bar code technology.

Yet here we are in the 21st century, and the invention of the bar code has stood the test of time. Even though the original inventors probably didn’t make much money out of their invention, they certainly helped contribute towards a minor revolution in the entire shopping process.