The Uniform Product Code (UPC) barcode celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. As document processing specialists, we found it necessary to reflect on this milestone.
On June 26, 1974, in Troy, Ohio, Marsh Supermarket cashier Sharon Buchanan swiped a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum across the scanner for customer Clyde Dawson. The device beeped to indicate a successful scan, ringing up 67 cents for the purchase.
The development of the UPC barcode as we know it today is credited to George Laurer, an IBM engineer who retired from the company in 1987. He led an IBM team that designed and promoted a barcode style and scanning technology that was eventually adopted by the grocery industry.
As barcodes rolled out across grocery and retail stores, their benefits quickly became apparent. Customer check-out times sped up by 40 percent, according to IBM. Transaction accuracy improved, as did inventory-management systems. Between 1976 and 1980 the number of grocery stores using barcode technology grew from 104 to 2,207.
Since then, barcodes have become ubiquitous, and are common outside the retail universe. DATAMARK uses them to track mail and documents in its clients’ outsourced mailrooms, couriers use them to track packages, manufacturers use them to manage the assembly line supply chain, airlines use them for boarding passes, and hospitals use them to track patients, and the list goes on.
The standards for barcodes were originally administered by the Uniform Code Council, which was established in 1974. Its European counterpart, the European Article Numbering Association, was created in 1977. The two organizations would eventually merge to form GS1. Today, GS1 is the world’s leading supply-chain standards organization, serving more than two million companies in 150 countries.
To learn more about the 40th anniversary of the UPC barcode (GS1 is now calling it the “GS1 barcode”), visit GS1’s commemorative website here:
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