top of page

The First Bar Code in the History

It was a Thursday morning when the first unique sticker of white and black lines facilitated the purchase of a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit gum, from Chicago-based Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. The bar code was scanned at 8:01 a.m. on June 26, 1974 at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio.

Every few years, the small town of Troy in Miami County, Ohio celebrates this historic occasion that for a few giddy weeks puts it on the world map of the grocery trade. At the time, National Cash Register, which provided the checkout equipment, was based in Ohio and Troy was also the headquarters of the Hobart Corporation, which developed the weighing and pricing machines for loose items such as meat. It was also here, on June 26, 1974, that the first item marked with the Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned at the checkout of Troy’s Marsh Supermarket.

The first item marked with the Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned at the checkout of Troy's Marsh Supermarket. (Courtesy of Yale University Press)

Joe Woodland, the inventor of barcode, said himself it sounded like a fairy tale: he had gotten the inspiration for what became the bar code while sitting on Miami Beach. He drew it with his fingers in the sand. This made him think about a sort of code that could be printed on groceries and scanned so that supermarket checkout queues would move more quickly and stocktaking would be simplified. That such a technology was needed was not his idea: it came from a distraught supermarket manager who had pleaded with a dean at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia to come up with some way of getting shoppers through his store more quickly. The delays and the regular stocktaking were costing profits.

Eventually it was Morse Code that gave him the idea. Woodland had learned it when he was in the Boy Scouts. As he was sitting in a beach chair and pondering the checkout dilemma, Morse came into his head:

I remember I was thinking about dots and dashes when I poked my four fingers into the sand and, for whatever reason—I didn’t know—I pulled my hand toward me and I had four lines. I said ‘Golly! Now I have four lines and they could be wide lines and narrow lines, instead of dots and dashes. Now I have a better chance of finding the doggone thing.’ Then, only seconds later, I took my four fingers—they were still in the sand—and I swept them round into a circle.

Like so many inventions, the UPC took some time to succeed. It was when the mass merchandisers adopted the UPC that it took off, Kmart being the first. In fact, bar code technology was almost made for companies like Walmart, which deal in thousands of goods that need to be catalogued and tracked. The bar code took off in the grocery and retail business in the 1980s, and at the same time began to transform manufacturing and to appear like a rash on anything that benefited from instant identification. In 2004, Fortune magazine estimated that the bar code was used by 80 to 90 percent of the top 500 companies in the United States.

Nowadays, technologies like QR codes store large amounts of information, unlocked when they're scanned with smart phones. Radio frequency identification technology is changing the way people pay for things too. Softzoo Barcode Scanner & Softzoo Inventory are available for variety of codes: Barcode, QR code, Code128, EAN-8,EAN-13, UPC-E,Aztec, PDF 417, ITF-14, Data Matrix, Interleaved 2 of 5, Code 93, Code 39, etc. Our mission is to develop easy-to-use Apps and provide Cloud Services for small businesses and individuals worldwide.

Find us on App Store

14 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page