In the beginning... how bar codes started


Johannesburg, 07 Feb 2020
Read time 3min 30sec

So, where did it all begin? This is a question well worth asking and it has a very interesting answer. The truth is that it all started on a beach in Miami in 1949. This was the year when Joe Woodland started thinking about the concept of a bar coding system. He claimed the idea was birthed while he was on Miami beach. He wanted to create some sort of code that could be scanned at the tills in order to avoid the inevitable long queues, and so save people time and keep customers happy. He also hoped it would assist in controlling stock levels. While he was sitting on the beach all those years ago, he drew his idea of a bar code into the sand. Joe Woodland spent the next few years working with Bob Silver in order to develop the technology that would allow the bar code system to work.

By 1952, Joe Woodland and Bob Silver had designed the first bar code scanner and it was in this year that the patent for the bar code system was awarded to them. The groundwork for bar code technology had been laid. These two inventors knew they had made a big advancement in bar code technology. However, they had no idea how their invention would change the world, including South Africa.

Woodland's dream came true in 1974, at a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. At just after 8am, the first retail product was sold using a bar code scanner. Naturally, the occasion was very ceremonial and filled with much excitement. On 26 June 1974, Clyde Dawson walked into the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio and bought his much-needed packet of Wrigley's bubblegum. Dawson was head of development and research for Marsh Supermarket. Apparently, he chose this specific product in order to disprove the much-believed theory that it was impossible to print a bar code on something as small as a packet of Wrigley's chewing gum. It was Dawson himself who had come up with the solution to this. The cashier who made history as the first teller to use the bar code scanner to sell a product was Sharon Buchanan. These two people have been written down in bar code history. The Adam and Eve of the bar code world.

By 1984, 33% of grocery stores in America were using bar code scanners and bar codes to control their stock and sell their products. This percentage increased from 80% to 90% by 2004. This is a dramatic increase and indicated the rapid advancement of bar code technology. Over the years there have been countless new developments in bar code technology until this present day, where bar codes are part of our everyday life. In fact, we actually take them for granted.

We have forgotten how hard life was without bar codes. Supermarkets and retailers had no way to efficiently track their inventory or monitor purchases made. Stock control was basically a guessing game. This lack of control often led to a loss of profits and in economically harsh climates; this could even lead to the business going bankrupt.

In conclusion, bar codes really began as a dream on a Miami beach in 1949 and, over the years, they have become more and more advanced. New bar codes have been created to meet other needs that have arisen over the years. Who knows what the future will bring in terms of bar code technology? I guess that we will have to wait and see. For SA business owners who want to buy bar codes, South Africa has a number of low-cost, high-quality options available. Contact Barcodes123 to find out more about how to buy bar codes and how you can use them in your business.