Have you ever thought about barcodes? Probably not, but they’re absolutely everywhere, on just about everything you can buy. Before they were invented, someone had the thrilling job of sticking prices on everything, and an awful lot of counting went on in shops.
Barcodes contain information, including price, that’s readable by a scanning machine. They were invented by technology students Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland in 1949, although the system they came up with, using ink that glowed under ultraviolet light, wasn’t the one we use today.
First a working system had to be developed and a universal standard set. The barcode system we use was demonstrated for the first time by IBM in 1973. The following year the first ever purchase using a barcode was made, but barcode technology didn’t become common until the 1980s. Now it’s everywhere. As well as reading the price, barcode scanners can give information about how quickly things sell and can even re-order new stock.
It won’t be long until barcodes are out of date and we’re all remembering what a wearisome process shopping was before the invention of RFIDs. Radio frequency identification tags will soon mean that you can go shopping without having to queue up and pay at all.
RFIDs, or smart labels, will be able to communicate with an electronic reader in your shopping trolley and send information to the shop, the manufacturer and your bank account.
Historic gum: The first ever barcode purchase was of a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum at a supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The chewy is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC.
Make your own personal barcode. The chances of anyone having the same barcode as you are incredibly remote as we are all different in so many ways.