The history of barcode invention. Thechnology which revolutionized the checkout counter.

bar-code city

Woodland and Bernard Silver were students at what is now called Drexel University in Philadelphia when Silver overheard a grocery-store executive asking an engineering school dean to channel students into research on how product information could be captured at checkout.

Woodland had worked on the Manhattan Project developing the US military's first atomic bombs. Having already earned a mechanical engineering degree, Woodland dropped out of graduate school to work on the barcode idea. The only code Woodland knew was the Morse code. One day he drew Morse dots and dashes as he sat on the beach and absent-mindedly left his fingers in the sand where they traced a series of parallel lines.

Woodland and Silver submitted their patent on October, 20 1949 for a code patterned on concentric circles that looked like a bull's eye. The patent was issued in 1952. 

Woodland joined IBM in 1951 hoping to develop the barcode but the technology wasn't accepted for more than two decades until lasers made it possible to read the code readily, the technology company said.

In the early 1970s, Woodland moved to Raleigh to join a team at IBM's Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The team developed a barcode-reading laser scanner system in response to demand from grocers wanting to automate and speed checkout while also cutting handling and inventory management costs.

IBM promoted a rectangular barcode that led to a standard for universal product code technology. The first product sold using a UPC scan was a 67-cent package of Wrigley's chewing gum at a supermarket in Troy, Ohio, in June 1974, according to GS1 US, the American affiliate of the global standard-setting UPC body.