The barcode is a set of numbers and lines that are found on almost every product imaginable. A barcode can be scanned and interpreted to show data about an object. Most barcodes are designed to be read by special optical scanners. Barcodes are made unique by varying the number of lines, width of those lines and the spaces between them. Newer barcodes include a variety of geometric shapes such as triangles, hexagons and rectangles and can be scanned using computers and smartphones. Barcodes are now used to track just about every item brought or sold around the world. So who invented the first barcode? Read this article to learn more.
The Invention of the Barcode
The first barcode was invented in 1949 by two students at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was circular in shape. Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland overheard a request made to the dean by the head of a local food chain, Food Fair, to create an electronic system to automatically read product information during checkout. This could be used as a way to both speed up the checkout process and record information for inventory.
There first attempt was created using ultraviolent ink, but this idea was problematic because the ink faded too quickly and it was expensive to produce. They decided to scrap this idea and continued to work on the problem outside of Drexel Institute of Technology. Their next model was based on the idea of Morse code and Woodland extended the dots and lines to be longer forming a barcode. The design was then changed to be circular so that it could be scanned from any direction. They also developed a system to read the barcode by adapting technology from optical sound tracks in movies. The system worked by shining a 500 watt light through the paper with the barcode onto an RCA935 photomultiplier tube. On October 20 1949 they applied for their patent for “Classifying Apparatus and Method” and included both the circular and linear models of the barcode. The patent was issued on 7 October 1952 as US Patent 2,612,994. This patent was then purchased by RCA in 1952.
The common use of the barcode did not begin until technology advanced enough to make the method viable. In 1966 the National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) worked with RCA to develop an automated checkout system using Silver and Woodlands barcode invention. In the mid-1970 the food industry worked towards standardizing the system. By 1980, 8,000 stores per year were converting to the use of the barcode system.