Barcode can be defined as codes readable by machines. These codes could be alphanumeric or patterns of parallel lines with different dimensions and usually printed on the product.

Thus, we can say barcode is useful in encoding information using a visual pattern readable by machines. The combination of elements(black and white) symbolizes unique text characters that align with a series of algorithms for that specific barcode.

History of Barcodes

So who invented the barcode?

According to history, Bernand Silver and Joseph Woodland were the first set of individuals to work on different means of reading product details automatically during the checkout process.

The initial idea of Silver came out of drawing a Morse code in the sand during a visit to a beach. He extended the dots, as well as dashes into bars and lines. Subsequently, he developed a bullseye concept to provide a solution to the problem relating to the reading of barcode in many directions. He received a patent(2,612,994) on the 7th of October, 1952, for both types.

Silver died in 1961, and by 1962, Philco bought the patent, who later sold it to RCA corporation or Radio Corporation of America.

What Was A World Without Barcodes Like?

Hardly would you find a product without a barcode. They have become popular to the extent that we rarely notice them.

Barcode technology came in a rudimentary way but gained popularity when big retailers started adopting it. It did not only remain in the US being an American invention, but it found its way to the United Kingdom in the late ’70s.

So what were we using before the barcode came into existence? And would the world still be as it is if it has not been invented?

Before it gained popularity in the business landscape, it was not an easy task to manage a warehouse or store. The only means of getting accurate stock inventory on the shelves or in the warehouses was to count every single item manually. It was not only time-wasting but expensive. Anyway, it was done infrequently and most times based on estimation.

Punch card technology

Many businesses managed their inventory using Punch card technology. This Punch card concept came into existence in the late 19th century. Customers used it to label their products.

The cards would be inserted in a reader when checking out. In a situation where this procedure was not used, products are only labeled with their prices using a manual process. What would it look like in a bigger warehouse or a large scale superstore? It would definitely be laborious and hectic.

So why was the barcode invented?

With different types of sectors adopting barcode technology, you could imagine what it would be like not having a barcode in our world today. Hospitals and health care institutions would find it hard to access data, record data, activate mobile communication, collate specimens, as well as, access patient I.D. It would be rigorous implementing these procedures manually. The Barcode was invented to save time, not only life.

Also, without barcodes, factories and warehouses would still employ manual processes to carry on their business processes. This would result in the inability to deliver quality service and meet up with market compliance and demand.

Manual processes and paper-based procedures cannot produce business growth and increased turnover. Superstores would find it difficult to expand as there would be no machines with self-scanning capabilities. We would have huge queues, increased overheads, and several problems.

Now, let’s get a glimpse of the barcode history, which is prominent today. 

Barcode Timeline

  • 1932: Supermarkets and grocery stores were searching for a simple means of tracking products sold and reconciling inventories. Wallace Flint, who happened to be a business student at Harvard University, recommended a punch-card approach. This was the same as the type designed for the 1890 population Census in the United States. The idea did not materialize as the technique was not only cumbersome but expensive.
  • 1948: A graduate student of the Drexel Institute, Bernard Silver, heard about a discussion between a Dean and a President of a big food company. The discussion was about finding automatic ways of generating product information at the checkout stage in the supermarkets. Silver shared what he overheard with his friends and colleague, Norman Joseph Woodland. Woodland was fascinated by this idea, and he began to conduct research.
  • 1949: Silver and Woodland filed for a patent for both bull’s eye barcode technology and linear systems ( taking cue from movie soundtrack technologies and Morse code).
  • 1952: Silver and Woodland developed the first barcode scanner. The patent was granted the same year.
  • 1962: Philco bought the patent and later sold it to RCA.
  • 1967: The Association of American Railroads adopted barcodes. The organization utilized it to identify railroad cars. This approach was composed of the red and blue reflective stripes glued to the sides of the vehicles with an encoded 6-digit enterprise-identifier and a 4-digit vehicle number.
  • 1969: The Computer Identics Corporation used the first true barcode technology at General Motors (GM) and General Trading Company Facilities(GTC).
  • 1970: An Ad-Hoc Committee was set up by the National Association of Food Chains for United States Supermarkets. The aim was to unify Grocery-Product code and establish guidelines for barcode development.
  • 1972: The RCA kickstarted an 18-month pilot test of the Bull’s-eye barcode technology in a Kroger superstore in Cincinnati.
  • 1973: The UPC or the United Product Code was introduced. This prepared the stage for the take-off of the barcode reader.
  • 1984: 33% of grocery supermarkets were equipped with barcode readers.
  • 1994: Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary, created QR codes. This was aimed at simplifying the tracking of cars and parts.
  • 2004:  Between 80 to 90% of Fortune 500 companies in the US utilized barcodes as reported by Fortune magazine.

What’s the Future of Barcode?

DNA barcoding seems to be the next reality. This is a new project called the International Barcode of Life. The aim was to collate a catalog of all living species on earth. It may not look unusual to see shoppers read a red snapper with their smart devices or a DNA scanning gadget.

DNA barcode will also enhance the activities of the conservationists. Presently, researchers are utilizing barcodes to monitor the habits exhibited by insects such as bees when they mate.

Barcode Technology will continue to evolve and grow in adoption. Cutting-edge technologies and innovations will continue to amplify its adoption.