The Barcode Story

Barcode History

In June, 1974 at a Supermarket in Ohio, USA, a clerk passed the UPC barcode on a 10 pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum over the scan window of a barcode scanner.

History was made that day by the first commercial barcode scan, and the now infamous good-read ‘beep’.

This first ‘beep’ signalled the beginning of the automatic data capture industry. Since its first scan, the barcode has revolutionized the retail industry and caused rapid adoption of barcode technology to improve productivity and advance inventory management while, at the same time, reducing errors and the physical strain on employees.

The same benefits have been realised upstream through the supply chain, from the factory floor to the retail outlet, while also creating huge waves in other industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance and entertainment.


A barcode symbology is best described as an “optical Morse code”; a series of black bars and white spaces of varying widths printed on labels to uniquely identify items.

The information encoded in the barcode is decoded by a scanner, which measures reflected light and interprets the code into numbers and letters that are passed on to a computer.

The primary benefit barcodes provide is rapid, simple, and accurate reading and transmission of data for items that need to be tracked or managed.

Since barcode labels are easily affixed or can be directly printed onto virtually any material (i.e. mailing tubes, envelopes, boxes, cans, bottles, packages, books and more), they are the most cost-effective and accurate solution for capturing data.


The early applications of barcode scanning such as retail POS checkout, item tracking and inventory management have been expanded to more advanced applications in more industries such as: time and attendance, work-in-process, quality control, sorting, order entry, document tracking, shipping and receiving, controlling access to secure areas – even tracking and identifying farm animals! Barcode data collection is part of a broader category called Automatic Identification, or Auto ID.

These expanded systems have measurably increased productivity by linking production, warehousing, distribution, sales and service to management information systems on a batch or real-time basis. Consequently, opportunities to improve operational efficiencies and customer responsiveness have developed for retailers, transportation and package delivery companies, manufacturers, wholesale distributors and service providers.

The need for data collection also extends into healthcare, where barcodes are being used for to update and track a patient’s electronic medical records and prescriptions.

By using a barcode based system, medical facilities can quickly and accurately update electronic medical records, instead of relying on a doctor’s hard-to-read handwritten notes for patient safety.