History of Barcodes
The first Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned in a grocery store in the early 1970s, but the history of machine-readable coded data begins much earlier. Punched cards can be thought of as the predecessor to barcodes, because they use binary information to record, store, and use data. The first instance of using punched cards in an industrial factory setting occurred in 1801 with Joseph Jacquard's development of a loom that used punched cards to automatically weave patterns into silk. Data collection and interpretation followed.
The following timeline summarizes the major advancements in automatic data identification and scanning over the last century or so.
Herman Hollerith, influenced by Jacquard's work, patents a punched-card system for data tabulation for the United States Census. Hollerith forms the Tabulating Machine Company, which later becomes International Business Machines (IBM).
Fournier D'Albe invents the Optophone as an aid to the blind. The device scanned text and converted printed letters to audible tones, enabling blind people to "read by ear."
IBM introduces the 80-column keypunch card.
John Kermode, Douglass Young, and Harry Sparkes, of Westinghouse Electric Company, file a patent application for the concept of a four-bar code with single-width elements. The term "barcode" does not appear in the patent application.
As a thesis project, a group of students headed by Wallace Flint at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration propose an automated system in which customers select merchandise from a catalog by removing corresponding IBM punch cards from the catalog and then handing the cards to a checker who places them into a reader. The system would then pull the merchandise automatically from the storeroom and deliver it to the checkout counter. A complete customer bill would be produced and inventory records would be updated. The system is never implemented, but it does demonstrate that both customers and stores could benefit from automation.
Kermode, Young, and Sparkes are awarded their barcode patent. The code is used by the Cleveland Gas and Electric Company to sort and collate bills.
Young patents an improvement to the 1934 code that incorporates multi-width space elements.
Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland develop coding patterns that use a phosphorescent ink that glows under ultraviolet light. However, the ink proves unstable and expensive, and the system is limited in the amount of data it can collect.
Silver and Woodland file a patent (granted in 1952) for both a circular "bull's-eye" symbology and a corresponding linear symbology that is made up of a pattern of four white lines on a dark background. This proves, in retrospect, to be the first code system that is practical for widespread use, beginning with the grocery industry, although widespread application does not come for twenty more years with the development of digital scanners. The circular pattern eliminated the need to correctly orient the code to the scanner, because it could be read from any direction.
Dr. David Sheppard patents the first practical OCR-A scanner.
The Association of American Railroads hosts a seminar to identify technologies that would make rolling stock identification and maintenance more efficient and cost-effective. F.H. Stites and Ray Alexander of Sylvania begin work on the KarTrak system, which eventually wins out over the competition. David Collins is assigned the task of implementing and evaluating the system.
The General Atronics Division of Magnavox installs a coding system to select and divert boxes on a conveyor. The system uses reflective labels to activate the scanner.
Twenty-one code scanning techniques are described in Control Engineering magazine.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) introduces the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) Code.
The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) installs one of the first scanning systems at a Kroger store in Cincinnati, Ohio. The product codes are represented by bull's-eye barcodes, which comprise a set of concentric circular bars and spaces of varying widths. These barcodes are not preprinted on the item's packaging but are printed on adhesive labels that are put on the items by Kroger employees.
The Association of American Railroads adopts the KarTrak system for all railroads. Car labeling and scanner installation begins on October 10, 1967. The American Trucking Association adopts the system shortly thereafter, installing the codes on truck trailers that are shipped by rail. However, the cost of maintaining the labels, among other factors, renders the system unworkable after eight years.
David Collins founds Computer Identics, the first company whose product line is based exclusively on barcode technology.
Gerry Wolfe, then at Identicon, develops the 2 of 5 code.
Collins installs a system that uses two-digit barcode labels and laser scanners to track automotive axle units at General Motors.
Plessey Telecommunications, in England, develops the Plessey Code for use in libraries.
The National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) asks Logicon, Inc. to develop a proposal for an industry-wide bar code system. The result is Parts 1 and 2 of the Universal Grocery Products Identification Code (UGPIC) in the summer of 1970.
Plessey Telecommunications is the first company to make UGPIC-compatible equipment for industrial use.
Dr. David Allais, then at Interface Mechanisms (later Intermec), invents the Intermec keyboard input printer for the Plessey code, the first on-demand barcode label generator.
Kroger and RCA develop a scanning system that uses adhesive labels that have a bull's-eye barcode symbology printed on them in-store. The first scan of a bull's-eye code at an automated check stand in a Kroger supermarket takes place on July 3.
George Laurer, then at IBM, heads the development committee that designs the Uniform Product Code (UPC) that, with slight modifications, is in global use today. IBM goes on to create five different versions of the UPC. IBM opts not to patent the technology, instead sharing it freely with the industry to encourage widespread adoption.
The Automatic Identification and Mobility (AIM) standards body is founded to "foster the effective use of automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) solutions."
Bruce Dobras and Jim Vanderpool, then of Monarch Marking Company, patent the Codabar symbology, which is initially meant for the retail industry but is used instead for library and medical applications.
The grocery industry adopts the UPC, prompting all manufacturers of consumer goods to label their products. Discussion about adopting the UPC begins in the publishing industry.
The Split Circle bull's-eye barcode, patented by Bendix, is used at Miami International Airport for scanning and sorting baggage. Approximately 70 bags per minute can be identified.
Allais develops Interleaved 2 of 5 code.
The Committee for Commonality in Blood Banking Automation (CCBBA), the precursor to the International Council for Commonality in Blood Banking Automation (ICCBBA), is formed to standardize and automate how blood data is recorded and how blood products are traced. Codabar is decided on as the most accurate and reliable symbology and is adopted as the standard in 1977.
The first UPC checkout scanner, made by the National Cash Register (NCR) Company, is installed at Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio. On June 26, the first barcoded product is scanned at a checkout counter: a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum.
The Uniform Code Council (UCC), the precursor to GS1, is established in the US as a non-profit standards body.
David Allais and Raymond Stevens develop Code 39 - Regular, the first alphanumeric industrial code.
Based on the early success of UPC in US and Canadian supermarkets, the European Article Numbering (EAN) code and symbol are developed and adopted.
The publishing industry adopts a customized version of the UPC that uses supplemental code for information such as publishing dates and periodical issue numbers.
Grocery suppliers are strongly encouraged by grocery retailers, notably Safeway, to begin marking their products with UPC.
The Logistics Applications of Automated Marking and Reading Symbols (LOGMARS) program is initiated by the United States Department of Defense (DoD). The program tests Code 39 for use in several DoD standard and command systems. The final LOGMARS plan is adopted in 1981.
Code 11 (USD-8), the first high-density symbology, is developed by Intermec for use with small telephone components.
The EAN Association, later incorporated into GS1, is established as an international non-profit standards body.
JCPenney adopts the Rexnord barcode system for its catalog distribution warehouses.
The first Rexnord airline baggage handling system is installed and operates successfully at Miami International Airport, using the UPC-E code. Over 300 bags per minute can be identified.
Twenty-three companies manufacture barcode scanning equipment.
Ninety percent of all grocery items are source-marked with UPC (meaning that they are marked by the manufacturer rather than by individual store employees).
The first issue of Bar Code News is published. The name is changed to ID Systems in 1987.
Interleaved 2 of 5 is adopted by the UCC for shipping in the grocery industry.
Ted Williams, then of Computer Identics, develops Code 128.
LOGMARS implementation requires approximately 33,000 suppliers to use Code 39 barcode on all shipments.
The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) is incorporated, comprising five major US automotive manufacturers. Its mission is to develop industry data collection standards to increase efficiency and productivity and to be more competitive with overseas manufacturers.
Scan-Tech, the first trade show dedicated to automatic data collection, is held at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
David Allais, then of Intermec, develops Code 93.
AIAG requires its 16,000 suppliers to use Code 39 barcode on all shipments.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) issues the first nationwide standards for Codabar, Code 39, and Interleaved 2 of 5.
GS1 issues standards for the use of ITF-14 on outer shipping cases, expanding beyond point-of-sale products.
The Health Industry Bar Code Council (HIBCC) is formed.
HIBCC publishes the Health Industry Bar Code Standard, which uses Code 39.
Seagull Scientific is established as a manufacturer and distributor of barcode-reading equipment for personal computers.
ID Expo, another automatic data collection trade show, is held for its first time in Boston.
AIM publishes the first Uniform Symbology Standards (USS).
Kmart of Canada requires its suppliers to use the UPC barcode.
David Allais, of Intermec, develops Code 49, the first two-dimensional (2-D) stacked symbology.
Seagull Scientific launches BarTender for DOS.
Ted Williams, then of Laserlight Systems, introduces Code 16K.
Multiple national organizations and corporate sponsors join forces to develop standard barcode label layouts and to coordinate the data identifiers in use by many industries with the application identifiers that the Uniform Code Council (UCC) is developing. These efforts influence standard adoption around the world and prompt the development of the UCC/EAN standards.
GS1 implements GS1 Application Identifiers for GS1-128 code as a means of including more detailed product information.
Barcodes are used for the first time in tabulating US Census statistics. Prior to this year, the Census had used keypunch cards.
Symbol Technologies introduces PDF417. This 2-D stacked symbology is adopted by the US DoD in 1996.
Ted Williams develops Code One, the first 2-D matrix symbology that is in the public domain.
United Parcel Service (UPS) introduces MaxiCode (originally Code 6) to the public domain. MaxiCode is a 2-D matrix symbology that is used for high-speed package tracking and sortation.
Seagull Scientific releases BarTender for Windows.
The Denso Wave subsidiary of Japanese automotive company Nippondenso (now Denso) invents the Quick Response Code (QR Code). Nippondenso opts to make the code freely available to encourage widespread adoption.
Drivers by Seagull introduces the world's first Windows printer drivers for label printers.
Amazon.com is launched. Books are chosen as the first product category because of the ease of use afforded by the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), made possible by the barcode.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) launches SC31, a committee for AIDC standards that focuses on international cooperation in standards development.
The Electronic Product Code (EPC) and GS1 DataBar (a reduced-space symbology [RSS]) are developed.
Smartphones begin to be equipped with features that make it possible for consumers to scan QR Code.
GS1 DataMatrix, the first 2-D symbol adopted by GS1, is approved.
QR Code begins to be implemented on grave markers. The code is used to access a virtual gravesite and view information about the deceased.
GS1 QR Code is approved.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) studies the use of 2-D symbologies to create a "farm to consumer" traceability model for small and midsize farms to help improve their economic viability.
The BarTender Print Portal app is released, bringing barcode label printing to iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.
When your barcoding needs reach professional strength, turn to BarTender barcode software, the world’s most trusted software for barcodes, label printing, RFID tags, plastic cards/badges, and more. Download a free 30-day trial edition of BarTender barcode software now.