Where Did Barcode Scanners Come From? History of Barcode Scanners

History of Barcode Scanners

Ever wondered how the barcode scanners at your favourite grocery store were invented? They’re everywhere! Barcodes are found in almost every product that you can get your hands on and as an extension, barcode scanners are found in every retail store.

They have revolutionised how inventory is managed and tracked and contributed to the global success of various brands worldwide. The success of barcodes and barcode scanners is just as fascinating as its history. Here is a timeline of the history of barcode scanners.

1948: The Birth of Barcode Scanners

The history of barcode scanners begins with Bernard Silver, a student at the Drexel Institute of Technology. Initially, he overheard a conversation between a grocery store owner and his institution’s dean. 

The store owner lamented over the poor inventory management system and was requesting the dean to help fund research to find a possible solution. The dean denied this request but this problem piqued Silver’s interest. Thereafter, he approached his fellow student and friend Norman Woodland and worked together to solve the problem at hand.

Initially, Woodland and Silver came up with an ultraviolet ink solution that would be readable under ultraviolet light. Unfortunately, the ink faded and smudged and thus was not a sustainable solution. These early frustrations led to Woodland dropping out of school to focus better on his research.

The “Bulls-Eye” Code

After Woodland dropped out of college, he would spend time on the beach while pondering a solution to manage inventories. At this moment, he drew several circles of varying widths that would resemble the dots and dashes of Morse code. This was his “aha” moment that he referred to as the “Bulls-Eye” code. The circular design of the code meant that it could be read in any direction and orientation. This design-thinking proved to be hard in later years.

Woodland and Silver filed for a patent for their invention which was granted in 1952. 

History of Barcode Scanners

1960: Laser Introduction and Application

The introduction of Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (LASER) systems helped push Woodland and Silver’s invention to the next level. Their invention was geared towards implementing the Universal Product Code (UPC) in the tracking of trade items in stores. Laser technology allowed for faster and more accurate scanning of barcodes.

The 1970s: Practical Use of Barcode Scanners

Woodland and Silver sold their patent to Philco for a handsome amount of money. Because the technology still hadn’t caught up, Philco later sold the patent to RCA that demonstrated a use case scenario during a grocery tradeshow in 1971. The ID scanner presented by RCA won a prize at the show and was noticed by IBM staff who tasked Woodland with leading a barcode development team.

The Barcode Scanner Race: 1970-1980

Here is a chronology of how barcode scanners grew in interest and use during this period:

  • 1972: RCA conducts an 18-month pilot of the Bulls-Eye code with Kroger grocery stores.
  • 1973: Woodland and the IBM team develop the UPC that is widely used today.
  • 1974: The first product, a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum, is scanned in a supermarket in Ohio using a GS1 barcode.
  • 1977 – 1980: Barcode scanners are widely accepted in stores across the US. Despite their high initial cost, they prove to deliver high ROI, save time and deliver overwhelming success in stores.

Given the popularity of barcode scanners in today’s world, it is refreshing to find out how they originated and the success and failures that the invention went through. Barcode scanners are fast, efficient, and time-saving for any industrial use. They are simple, durable, and offer a wide range of use in every industry. If you’re looking for a barcode scanner, ASP Microcomputers is here to help!

Please call us today on 03 9578 7600 or 1800 061 642 or leave an enquiry.