The 40th anniversary of the bar code
Image source: barcoderobot.com
Even in back in the 1940s, grocery stores faced a cumbersome, time consuming task: inventory. One grocer’s plea to Drexel University for a solution led a student to design a crude, but effective optical scanning system in 1948.
RCA and IBM played with the idea later on, but the concept of an optically readable inventory code had to to wait for technology to catch up.
Two technological developments of the 1960s finally made scanners simple and affordable enough. Cheap lasers were one. The other was integrated circuits. When Woodland and Silver first came up with their idea, they would have needed a wall full of switches and relays to handle the information a scanner picked up; now it’s all done by a microchip.
On June 26, 1974, all the tests were done, all the proposals were complete, all the standards were set, and at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio, a single pack of chewing gum became the first retail product sold with the help of a scanner. Decades of schemes and billions of dollars in investment now became a practical reality. The use of scanners grew slowly at first. A minimum of 85 percent of all products would have to carry the codes before the system could pay off, and when suppliers reached that level, in the late 1970s, sales of the systems started to take off. In 1978 less than one percent of grocery stores nationwide had scanners. By mid-1981 the figure was 10 percent; three years later it was 33 percent, and today more than 60 percent are so equipped.
Soon to be coming to the replicant near you!