Monday, October 2, 2017

From Bar Code to Barcode

What was the first product to be scanned with a barcode?  It was a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum, in June 1974.

The inventor was Joe Woodland and it was Morse code that gave him the idea. He filed the patent with his friend Bernard Silver in 1949.

"I remember I was thinking about dots and dashes when I poked my four fingers into the sand and, for whatever reason—I didn’t know—I pulled my hand toward me and I had four lines. I said ‘Golly! Now I have four lines and they could be wide lines and narrow lines, instead of dots and dashes. Now I have a better chance of finding the doggone thing.’ Then, only seconds later, I took my four fingers—they were still in the sand—and I swept them round into a circle."

The first operating machine was large and worked "up to a point".   It took some more inventions - the laser and the minicomputer - to make it practical. And the original barcode was a circle - a bull's eye - which proved difficult to print. The competition escalated in the 1970's between seven companies to have their system adopted by the Symbol Committee of the National Association of Grocery Chains.

Slow to start, more scanning was installed in stores.  They found that at about 5 weeks after installing barcode scanners, sales typically started climbing and reached 10-12% increase in sales that never dropped off.  And there was a 1-2% decrease in operating costs.  The return on investment for a barcode scanner was 41.5%. 

And here's one of the responses to barcodes described by Wikipedia:

"The global public launch of the barcode was greeted with minor skepticism from conspiracy theorists, who considered barcodes to be an intrusive surveillance technology, and from some Christians, pioneered by a 1982 book The New Money System 666 by Mary Stewart Relfe, who thought the codes hid the number 666, representing the number of the beast. Television host Phil Donahue described barcodes as a "corporate plot against consumers".

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