Walk into a supermarket or a grocer or a music store or a place that sells sporting goods, almost any kind of retail outlet that you can imagine and there is one thing, almost unnoticeable, that is present in all those places. It’s something that becomes a little more significant as you approach the checkout counter and get ready to pay, but even then, nobody really knows what it is all about. We are of course talking about the barcode that gets scanned in and which feeds its information to the till for pricing and stock count purposes. But where did it come from? How does it work? Who invented it? Here are some answers to the questions that you have probably never actually asked but those stripy lines.
Where were they first used?
Long before they were globally accepted the barcode was first used for the labelling on railway cars. It was only when a supermarket chain started looking for a way to convey product information in a standardized way that would mean barcodes Australia were the same as those in America or England or Japan that they suddenly took off. But the truth is that long before they were patented in 1952, they had been used with limited success to track railway cars.
What was the first product to carry a code?
Supermarket chain Food Fair were the company that commissioned retail experts Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland to come up with the point of sale solution that was the barcode but it was chewing gum company Wrigleys who were the first to have a barcode printed onto their product. It happened a long time after the initial patent in 1952 with the first chewing gum only scanned at a retail outlet in Ohio in 1974.
Were they quickly accepted and adopted?
The answer to this is ‘no’ but it’s probably not for the reason that you think. People have a tendency to be afraid of things that they don’t understand and this was the case with the barcode which, soon after it gained retail traction, was flagged by the religious right who felt that it was a code for 666 – the alleged number of the beast from The Bible’s book of Revelations. George Laurer who had advanced the initial work of Silver and Woodland was quick to dispel these suggestions but it took a long time for the suspicions to dissipate.
What information does a barcode contain?
Barcodes do not contain huge amounts of information – this is certainly the case with the standard one dimensional barcodes that you see in supermarkets. Typically a barcode just contains basic product information enabling the item you are purchasing to be identified from a database of similar products. In short a standard barcode would contain encoded information that confirms things like a products country of origin, its description, the price and its size or volume. The result of the scan is that the details appear on your till slip and similarly that the item is removed from the stock file so that it can be reordered and replaced by the purchasing department.