Collins, not surprisingly, then quit Sylvania and formed Computer Identics Corporation. He started working with helium-neon lasers – which had just started to become affordable in the late 1960’s – rather than light bulbs, and was able to scan with a mirror to locate the barcode anywhere from three inches up to several feet in front of the scanner, as well as being able to sweep back and forth hundreds of times a second. This made the entire process much more reliable and simple. Back in the 1960’s Woodland and Silver needed a massive array of relays and switches to process the information picked up by a scanner, today of course this is all done via microchip.Then in 1966 the Kroger grocery chain volunteered to test the Woodland patent that RCA bought back in 1952. The “Uniform Grocery Product Code” of 11 digits was established. A tender was sent out at this point for a barcode system which could read and print the code. Many options were considered including the bullseye circle code developed by RCA, linear codes and even starburst patterns. But in the end Woodland’s linear code turned out to be the easiest to print and remain readable; and in 1973 the IBM UPC (Universal Product Code) was adopted as the standard. The first item ever successfully scanned via this system was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s gum in Ohio on the 26th of June 1974. The gum and the receipt printed are still on display at the Smithsonian Institution to this day.
Now the real challenge began. A grocery store would make no profit from installing this system unless at least 70% of their stock had the UPC code printed on it by their suppliers; with IBM predicting that to go up to 75% by 1975. Despite this, by 1977 there were scanning machines in less than 200 grocery stores in the US, less than 1% of the nationwide total. Business Week famously made the proclamation “The Supermarket Scanner that Failed”. It seemed neither the product manufacturers nor the retailers they supplied were willing to make the first move in adopting the technology.However, shops which had installed the scanners discovered some additional benefits. Being able to track the demand for various stock items naturally allowed them to respond better to customer’s desires, and studies revealed that sales in these grocery stores sales typically began climbing after only five weeks of installing the scanners by ten to twelve percent, and staying there. Operating costs also dropped by two percent. The research paid off – showing that return on investment in a barcode scanner was 41.5% – and by 1980 an average of 8000 shops were converting per year. And, of course, checkout speed was doubled which meant shorter cues without the need to take on additional staff.Not everyone in the public, however, was happy with the widespread adoption of barcodes. Conspiracy theorists found them to be an intrusive form of surveillance technology! Fundamentalist Christians also had an issue, believing that George Laurer’s standard UPC code which was adopted by the industry in 1973 hid the number 666 which was thought to represent “The Number of the Beast” as described in Revelations. Laurer eventually addressed this issue with the following statement:
“Answer- Yes, they do RESEMBLE the code for a six. An even parity 6 is:
1 module wide black bar 1 module wide white space 1 module wide black bar 4 module wide white space
There is nothing sinister about this nor does it have anything to do with the Bible’s “mark of the beast” (The New Testament, The Revelation, Chapter 13, paragraph 18). It is simply a coincidence like the fact that my first, middle, and last name all have 6 letters. There is no connection with an international money code either.”