Bar Codes

The History of the Bar Code

An inventive invention assignment by Brad Bice for EGR 304 - Grand Valley State University


The first patent for the modern bar code (as opposed to a punch card system used in the 1930’s as a means for ordering from a catalog) was issued to two inventors (Bernard Silver and Joseph Woodland) in 1952, long before it would become the standard for quick and efficient retail price and information reference in the world.

Round barcode

Round bar code (via Inventors)

The first barcode design has been described as either a circular “bull’s eye”-like design, or also as a straight line type of pattern that is closer to what is used in modern times. The design came about after a local food store owner inquired about a method for automatically reading pricing information on products right at the cash register. The original design used ultraviolet inks and a specially designed reader to identify the different lines and their meanings.

The bar code did not become commercially viable until closer to the 1980s, where it boomed as an easy method for identifying product price, description and other useful information for use with store checkout lanes and inventory.


Round barcode

Standard bar code

The bar code allows for a standard and quick method of displaying information in a machine-readable fashion for quick process. Originally designed to help with the identification of railcars, use of bar codes exploded when they were introduced into the commercial world.

Now bar codes are everywhere, identifying products in stores, inventory on shelves, and even living beings. They are represented by parallel lines, patterns of dots, and text codes hidden in images.

Unique in it's own right as a form of communication, "The bar code is the most prominent and omnipresent example of an essential language that is meant to be invisible—to humans" (Swanson 23).

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