Those Important Inventions: The Story Behind the Barcode

How did the barcode, which changed the world's retail industry, come about?


Now, barcodes are commonplace and can be seen anytime, anywhere. It is estimated that there are about 5 billion pieces of circulating goods in the world that accept barcode scanning every day, and barcodes have become an indispensable thing in people's daily life.


But little is known about the origin of the barcode.


Barcodes first appeared in the 1940s, but they were actually applied and developed around the 1970s. Now all countries and regions in the world have generally used bar code technology, and it is being rapidly promoted to all parts of the world, its application fields are becoming more and more extensive, and it has gradually penetrated into many technical fields.


As early as the 1940s, two engineers from the United States, Joe Wood Land and Berny Silver, began to study the codes composed of certain patterns to represent the names of food sold in stores, and at the same time developed corresponding equipment for automatically recognizing such pattern codes. In 1949 Obtained a U.S. patent.

The pattern of this pattern code is as follows:

This is the so-called "bull's eye" barcode


The origin of the barcode dates back to 1932, when a group of Harvard Business School students started a project to make it easier for customers to shop by catalog.

The idea at the time was that when a customer wants to buy something, all they need to do is take a card from the store's catalog corresponding to the product they want to buy, and then give this card to a clerk, who will put the card into the mechanical card reader, and then the card reader will output the information of the product corresponding to the card.


Supermarket at that time


Then the clerk can obtain the information of the relevant product and its location in the warehouse, so that the product required by the customer can be shipped quickly, and the information on the card will also update the store's inventory information, so that when the store needs to purchase that item again, the store owner or manager will know how much to order.

This system has great potential in tracking merchandise, making it easier to manage and maintain inventory.


Unlike the commodity barcodes we see today, the early barcode patterns resembled miniature archery targets, resembling a series of concentric circles of different widths, conceived by Bernard Silver, a graduate student at Drexel Institute of Technology, and called "bull's eyes" code.

In principle, the "bull's eye" code is very similar to later barcodes. The "bull's eye" barcode was originally intended to be used on merchandise at the Food Fair store chain. When the Food Fair manager wanted to find a better way to keep track of the store's inventory, Silver overheard the news, then he devised a barcode solution for use by some chain stores with large stocks of goods.


Working with Drexel's graduate student colleague Normal Woodland on the project, they eventually patented their new invention in 1949 and prepared it for commercial use.
Woodland and Silver applied for a patent for the barcode in 1949.

Their solution is to attach a barcode label to each food product to be sold, and then use a scanner at the checkout counter to read the information contained in each barcode. Each barcode has a different pattern, and the pattern is for a particular item in a store is unique.


Early barcodes had four white lines on a dark background. Depending on later needs, more white lines could be added to increase the number of product codes this barcode might represent. This is important because as new products are invented and Production, the types and quantities of commodities will increase.

For the printing of this barcode label, Woodland initially wanted to use a special type of ink that would glow under ultraviolet light, but this system had two disadvantages: first, printing the code was expensive, and second, over time Will fade.

If barcodes are to be attached to products and remain on store shelves for extended periods of time, longer-lasting carriers are required.

As he refined his new idea, Morse code inspired him to create a new type of barcode. Morse code used dots and dashes, which Woodland translated into thick and thin lines in the barcode. When the barcode was perfected Later, he and Silver applied for a patent for their invention, and called it "Classifying Apparatus and Method". This new type of barcode is rectangular, can be printed with ordinary ink, is less expensive, and has better error tolerance. When part of the pattern of the barcode is worn away, it can still be read by the scanner.


Neither Woodland nor Silver made their fortunes from barcodes, as they sold the patent to Philco, who later sold it to RCA (Radio Corporation of America) in 1952, shortly after receiving the patent papers.

But there is no doubt that this invention is invaluable, because bar codes are used in any country in the world where goods are sold, and all that is required is a faster machine to scan items containing bar codes. A little made possible by technologies that emerged in the 1960s.

Since then, people have continued to improve the bar code system. Ten years later, Joe Woodland, as an engineer at IBM, became the founder of the North American Uniform Code UPC code. Several inventors, represented by Girard Fessel, filed a patent in 1959 describing that each of the numbers 0-9 could be composed of seven parallel bars. But this code makes it difficult for machines to read, and it is also inconvenient for people to read. However, this idea did promote the emergence and development of barcodes. Soon, EFB rinker applied for another patent, which is to mark the bar code on the tram. A system invented by Sylvania in the 1960s and adopted by the North American railroad system. These two items can be said to be the earliest application of bar code technology.


In 1970, the U.S. Supermarket Ad Hoc Committee formulated the UPC code, and many groups also proposed various bar code symbol schemes. The UPC code was first tried in the grocery retail industry, which laid the foundation for the unification and widespread adoption of bar codes in the future. In the following year, Blasey Company developed the Blasey Code and the corresponding automatic identification system for inventory checking. This is the first practical application of barcode technology in warehouse management systems. In 1972, Monarch Marking and others developed the Code Bar code, and the bar code technology in the United States has entered a new stage of development.


In 1973, the United States Uniform Code Consortium (UCC for short) established the UPC barcode system and realized the standardization of the code system. In the same year, the grocery industry adopted the UPC code as the industry's general standard code system, which played a positive role in promoting the wide application of barcode technology in the field of commercial circulation and sales. In 1974, Dr. Davide Allair of Inter Rmec developed code 39, which was quickly adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense as a military barcode system. Code 39 is the first barcode that combines letters and numbers, and was later widely used in the industrial field.

In 1976, the successful application of UPC codes in supermarkets in the United States and Canada encouraged people, especially Europeans, who were very interested in it. The following year, the European Community formulated the European Article Code EAN-13 and EAN-8 codes on the basis of the UPC-A code, signed the "European Article Number" agreement memorandum, and formally established the European Article Number Association (referred to as EAN). In 1981, because EAN had developed into an international organization, it was renamed "International Article Numbering Association", referred to as IAN. However, due to historical reasons and habits, it is still called EAN. (later changed to EAN-international)


Japan began to establish the POS system in 1974, researching standardization, information input methods, printing technology, etc. And on the basis of EAN, the Japanese article code JAN was formulated in 1978. In the same year, he joined the International Article Numbering Association, began to register manufacturers, and fully transferred to the development of barcode technology and its series of products. Ten years later, he became the largest user of EAN.

Since the early 1980s, people have carried out a number of studies around improving the information density of barcode symbols. Code 128 and Code 93 are the research results. Code 128 was recommended in 1981, and Code 93 in 1982. The advantage of these two codes is that the bar code symbol density is nearly 30% higher than that of 39 codes. With the development of bar code technology, the types of bar code system are increasing, so the standardization problem is very prominent. For this reason, the military standard 1189 has been formulated successively; interleaved Code 25, Code 39 and CodeBar code ANSI standard MH10.8M and so on. At the same time, some industries have also begun to establish industry standards to meet the needs of development. Since then, David Allier has developed Code 49, which is a non-traditional bar code symbol, which has a higher density than previous bar code symbols (that is, the prototype of the two-dimensional bar code). Then Ted Williams (Ted Williams) introduced the 16K code, which is a code system suitable for laser scanning. By the end of 1990, there were more than 40 kinds of bar code codes, and the corresponding automatic identification equipment and printing technology have also been greatly developed.



The main events in the development of barcode technology.


In 1949,

N.J.Woodland of the United States applied for a patent for circular bar codes.

In 1960,

The bar code identification mark scheme used on railway freight cars was proposed.

In 1963,

Articles describing various bar code technologies are published in the October 1963 issue of Control Engineering.

In 1967,

A supermarket in Cincinnati, USA first used a barcode scanner.

In 1970,

UCC was established in the United States; the U.S. Postal Service used long and short barcodes to indicate the postal codes of letters.

In 1971,

Some libraries in Europe adopt Plessey codes.

In 1972,

The United States proposed Codabar code, Cross 25 code and UPC code.

In 1974,

The United States proposed Code 39.

In 1977,

Europe adopted the EAN code.

In 1980,

The U.S. military department adopted Code 39 as its item code.

In 1981,

The International Article Numbering Association was established; the barcode decoding technology for automatic identification was realized; Code 128 were recommended.

In 1982,

The handheld laser barcode scanner was practical; the US military standard 1189 was adopted; 93 codes began to be used.

In 1983,

The United States formulated the ANSI standard MH10.8M, including Cross 25 code, Code 39 and Codebar code.

In 1984,

The United States formulated the bar code standard for the healthcare industry.

In 1987,

Dr. David Allairs of the United States proposed Code 49.

In 1988,

The visible laser diode was successfully developed; Ted Williams of the United States proposed a novel code system 16K code suitable for laser system reading.


The lengthy process of barcode being applied


The Development of Modern Barcode Technology



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