The history of the barcode

Since its invention in the late 1940s, the barcode has gained enormous importance for automatic identification and data capture in various industries. Today, the barcode is ubiquitous and is used in numerous applications, from supermarkets to the medical field. But how did the barcode come about? In this article, we will go on a search for the history of the barcode, examine its predecessors, describe the development of the barcode system, and discuss the application and future of the barcode.

The idea of identifying and storing goods and information in an automated way is not new. In the 19th century, mechanical tally frames and punched cards were used for data capture. In the 1940s, there were initial attempts to use optical codes for data capture. However, these codes were not particularly successful due to technical difficulties and limited application possibilities. It was the invention of the barcode that eventually brought the breakthrough for automatic data capture.

The invention of the barcode is due to the work of two students at Drexel University in Philadelphia: Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver. In the 1940s, the two began to search for a solution for automated data capture. They experimented with various optical codes that could be applied to packaging through various techniques such as printing, sticking, or painting. They were looking for a system that was easy to print and read, as well as robust and inexpensive to manufacture.

In 1949, Woodland had a groundbreaking idea. He remembered Morse code, which he learned as a Boy Scout, and realized that a code consisting of a sequence of dashes and spaces could be a simple and reliable method of data capture. In a shopping center in Miami Beach, Woodland sat on the beach and drew dashes and spaces in the sand to imitate Morse code and test whether this approach would be suitable for data capture. Woodland and Silver eventually developed the first barcode prototype, consisting of a simple pattern of dashes and spaces.

However, it took several years for the barcode to become a practical system. In the 1950s, various research groups worked on developing code systems that could be used in industry. One of the most important milestones was the invention of the Bullseye barcode system by David Savir in 1959. This technology used a circular arrangement of segments that could be optically read. Other researchers developed similar systems, but none of them could prevail. It was finally the introduction of the barcode in the 1970s that brought the final breakthrough for automatic identification and data capture.

The first barcode actually used in a store was the Universal Product Code (UPC). The UPC code was developed by IBM and the food industry to simplify the process of purchasing and storing food. The first UPC code was scanned on a package of Wrigley's gum in a supermarket in Ohio in 1974. The introduction of the UPC code was a great success and led to the rapid spread of the barcode. Today, barcodes can be found in almost every industry and application, from logistics to consumer electronics.

Barcode technology has undergone numerous developments in recent decades. The barcodes have become increasingly complex and can now consist of several hundred or thousand dashes. 2D codes have also been developed that can store more information in a smaller space. Examples of 2D codes are the QR code and the data matrix code. Barcode scanners have also been improved and are now very precise and fast. By using wireless technology such as RFID (radio frequency identification), barcodes can also be read remotely, expanding their application possibilities.

The future of the barcode is promising. The barcode remains an important tool for automatic identification and data capture. In the future, barcode technology is expected to be further developed to be even more precise and efficient. One area where barcodes may possibly further expand is the Internet of Things (IoT). In the IoT, intelligent devices communicating with each other via wireless connection will play an important role. Therefore, the use of barcodes for identifying items and tracking goods flows is expected to continue to increase.

In summary, it can be said that the barcode has a remarkable history. From its beginnings as a simple pattern of lines and gaps to its current status as an indispensable tool for data capture, the barcode has undergone a long development. It is difficult to imagine how the economy and society would function without this simple but effective technology. The barcode has revolutionized the way we identify and track goods and information and will continue to play an important role in the future.