Barcode History around the World
When did barcodes start? Barcodes originated from the increasing need to create a system to manage retail operations in a more efficient manner. Retailers were getting bigger and bigger and stock control was becoming more and more difficult. Retailers around the world needed a system to make it simpler and to be able to attend to more customers on a daily basis. The initial request came from a retail store owner who was at his wits end and approached the Dean at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia who was not intrigued by the request and in 1952 Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver stepped up to the plate and developed the modern barcode. This answers the question of who invented the barcode system. They based their barcode on Morse code, using dots and lines. Woodland had his first inspiration for his first barcode from sand, while sitting on a beach in Miami he drew his fingers through the sand which gave him the idea of the vertical scannable lines.
When were barcodes first used? Barcode history dates back to 1974 when barcodes were first used in in a store in Ohio, it was placed on a packet of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. The barcode format used was a UPC barcode which is short for Universal Product code and is a 12 digit barcode. Which later grew and expanded into a second format called the EAN barcode which is short for European Article Number and is a 13 digit barcode. The packet of gum was bought by Clyde Dawson and the cashier was Sharon Buchanan. It cost 67 cents. This packet of gum and the receipt are now on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington. Today the UPC is still predominantly used in The United States of America, whereas all other countries use the EAN format. That is why we prefer to provide both formats when you purchase from us so that you have barcodes that can be used worldwide for exporting and importing purposes as well.
Later, in 1959, David Collins became aware of the need to automatically identify railroad cars. He created a system for monitoring and controlling railroad carriages also using blue and red reflective stripes attached to the side of the cars which encoded a six digit company identifier and a four digit car number. He called this system Kar Trak.
Both of these barcode formats developed by Woodland and the Kar Trak Barcodes had problems due to the fact that the scanner could not read the barcodes easily if they had any dirt on them. They didn’t have the technology they needed to create the modern day barcode scanner. The whole system was abandoned in 1970s but later in the 1980s a new system emerged which utilised radio tags. Radio tags or radio frequency identification tags (RFID) are tags that use tracking to identify items. They transmit via radio frequency waves to a reader. They have also been known to be used in tracking chips on animals, vehicles and even people. They can be operated using a battery system or a non battery operated system which is what is used in Pets microchips.
With regards to barcode history, in the beginning, barcodes were scanned by special optical scanners called Barcode Readers. Later technology improved and scanners and interpretative software were used on devices including desktop printers and even smartphones.
As the years progressed, barcodes were improved and transformed into the barcodes we find today. With the development of technology, barcodes scanners were also improved which made the retail process simple and easy for both the supplier and the retailer as well as for the customer. It eliminated the risk of human error in ringing up incorrect items or prices as well as allowed cashiers at the point of sale to be able to serve more customers on a daily basis hence increasing profits and morale all round. You may notice that retail stores also sometimes use the format of barcode called a QR Code in order to run promotions or competitions, these barcodes can be read using a smartphone camera. They are two dimensional barcodes and are very modern as they are able to store vast amounts of information and link to web based URLs.
Barcodes became very widely used to manage retailer checkout systems. Their use has spread to a variety of other tasks such as automatic identification and data capture and even to combat animal poaching and nature conservation among others.
In 1966, the National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) got involved in the barcode business. They wanted to develop a system where checkouts at retailers could be automated and controlled. They created a committee which created guidelines for the development of barcodes and assisted in creating a standard approach to implementing barcodes in retailers which later evolved became known as GS1. GS1 is the worldwide creator and issuer of barcodes and is a non profit organization. In order to place your products into retail stores they need to have GS1 registered barcodes placed on them this is to avoid barcode duplication, therefore you are required to legally own your barcode numbers.
As more and more retailers invested in purchasing the equipment needed to scan the barcodes, these stores benefited greatly. It allowed for more responsiveness to customer needs by revealing which products were in higher demand. Sales increased by 10 – 12 % and the operating costs decreased by 1 -2%. This enabled the retailers to lower their costs and thereby increase their market share. By 1988, 8000 retailers were converting to using barcodes per year.
However, there were people who were against the launch of barcodes. This skepticism mainly came from conspiracy theorists who believed that barcodes were an intrusive surveillance technology. Also, some Christians believed that barcodes hid the number 666 which represents the number of the beast.
Despite these protests, barcodes took the world by storm, and were adopted by more and more stores throughout the world, as well as in South Africa. In these modern days, you can’t walk into a store without seeing a barcode. Barcodes have come a long way since 1960. They have revolutionized retailers by increasing their efficiency and control over stock, thereby increasing their profit level and generally making the retail business as smooth as possible. Barcodes are now used throughout the world for a huge variety of products ranging from beauty products to gardening tools all the way to groceries.
This is one of the reasons why it is necessary to buy barcodes for any product you want to sell in South Africa. These will be registered with your chosen retailers who can then begin selling your product. By buying barcodes in South Africa, you are becoming part of history.