Happy 44th Birthday, Commercial Barcode! My, How Far We’ve Come

Believe it or not, June 26 of this year will mark the 44th anniversary of the first time a barcode was used in the commercial sector. The Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned for the for the first time to sell a package of Wrigley’s chewing gum at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio – a product that cost 67-cents in 1974. Mounted within the unit was a helium-neon laser which projected a beam onto a rotating mirror and up through a glass plate on the top surface. The light was then reflected from the code label on the package and was detected by a photo-diode. A computerized cash register matched the signal from the photo-diode with information in a stored database to determine which product was being scanned.

Juicy Fruit

If that wasn’t fascinating enough, inventor Joe Woodland actually drew the first barcode in the sand in Miami Beach – decades before technology could bring his vision to life. Now, every few years, the small town of Troy in Miami County, Ohio celebrates an historic occasion that, for a few giddy weeks, puts it on the world map of the grocery trade. According to legend, Clyde Dawson – head of research and development for Marsh Supermarket – dipped into his shopping basket and pulled out a multi-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum, later explaining that he chose it because “nobody had been sure that a barcode could be printed on something as small as a pack of gum” and that “Wrigley had found a solution to the problem.”

Their ample reward, according to historical reports, was a place in American history.

Woodland himself speaks of his inspiration for the barcode he drew with his own fingers through the Miami Beach sand; he was looking to design a code of some kind that could be printed on groceries and scanned so that supermarket checkout queues would move more quickly and stock-taking would be simplified. However, the need for such a technology was not Woodland’s idea solely – it was actually born from a distraught supermarket manager who had requested from a dean at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia a way of getting shoppers through his store in a more orderly fashion, as delays and regular stock-taking routines were costing him significant profits. The dean shrugged him off, but a junior postgraduate, Bernard “Bob” Silver, overhead the conversation and was intrigued, going on to mention the concept to Woodland (who had graduated from Drexel in 1947).

Woodland, already an inventor, decided to rise to the occasion and looked to the concept of Morse Code to realize his store checkout solution.

Indeed, every time we purchase goods we interact with a barcode, yet rarely do we give them much thought. Barcodes play a crucial role in the effective and efficient operation of our economy, from small businesses to large multinational conglomerates. Barcodes started out with simple one-dimensional designs consisting of basic black and white lines that could only be read by specially-designed barcode scanners; today’s barcodes, however, come in many shapes, sizes and designs, with many being able to be read by mobile phones and other devices.


Into the 21st Century with Insight Works

Boy, how far barcoding technology has come. Just consider that from those humble roots wherein a pack of gum was scanned through the first variation of this tech came one of the industry’s most trusted mobile warehouse management systems – our own Warehouse Insight – and the depth of this advancement becomes evident.

Warehouse Insight, among a myriad of other features and benefits for the warehouse environment, provides configurable rules to decode any type of barcode and extract any required information including item number, item cross-reference, variant code, unit of measure, quantity, lot number, expiration date, serial number and any other custom field.

Contact us today to discover how Insight Works is making inefficient operations like inaccurate warehouse transactions and time-consuming manual tracking a thing of the past.

Learn more

Mobile Warehouse Data Collection

Warehouse InsightWarehouse Insight is an add-on for Microsoft Dynamics NAV that provides warehouse and production employees with full NAV access via barcode scanners and hand-held computers. Warehouse Insight streamlines NAV’s inventory and warehouse functionality to provide intuitive warehousing tools for inventory counts, shipping, receiving, picks, putaways, bin management, and more.

Learn more