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June 26, 1974 – The First Universal Product Code (UPC)

Posted June 26, 2007 8:00 AM by Steve Melito

On this date in engineering history, a cashier scanned the first universal product code (UPC) at a supermarket checkout counter. Shortly after 8:00 AM on June 26, 1974, shopper Clyde Dawson handed Sharon Buchanan a 10-pack of chewing gum. Buchanan, a cashier at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, scanned the package's black and white barcode with a $4000 laser scanner from PSC, Inc. When the gum rang up at 67 cents, an era in supermarket shopping was born. Today, Clyde Dawson's package of Juicy Fruit gum is on display at the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of American History. Supermarket barcodes are no longer a novelty, and UPC barcode scanners are available for a fraction of their original cost.

From Punch Cards to Bulls Eyes to UPCs

Long before bar codes and laser scanners, a grocer's son named Wallace Flint wrote a Master's degree thesis about a supermarket where customers would punch paper slips to mark their selections, and insert completed cards into a reader which would activate a conveyor belt. Years later, two graduate students at Drexel University patented a bar code system that used ultraviolet ink and concentric circles which resembled bulls' eyes. Although RCA demonstrated a bulls' eye barcode system at a meeting of grocery industry executives in 1971, printing problems and scanning snafus limited the technology's usefulness. In the meantime, engineers at IBM's facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina tested barcodes such as Delta A, Delta B, and Delta C before inventing the universal product code (UPC). Although George Laurer is labeled as the UPC's inventor, engineers Heard Baumeister, Bill Crouse, and Jack Jones, and Paul McEnroe also deserve credit.

From Bar Codes to RFID Tags

Thirty years after Sharon Buchanan scanned the first UPC barcode at a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, Wal-Mart announced a pilot program which required suppliers to attach radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to shipments to its stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Today, the world's largest retailer requires 100% RFID compliance from its top 100 suppliers. By the end of 2007, all Wal-Mart suppliers must be compliant with the company's electronic product code (EPC) network. RFID mandates from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and European retailers Metro, Marks & Spencer and Tesco have also popularized RFID tags. Eventually, RFID News reports, RFID tags will replace UPC barcodes on every consumer product.

Resources:

http://www.keyword.com/barcode_upc.htm

http://www.rfidnews.org/library/2004/02/01/new-rfid-tag-standard-poised-to-replace-barcode-on-every-consumer-product/

http://www.barcoding.com/information/barcode_history.shtml

http://searchcio.techtarget.com/originalContent/0,289142,sid19_gci1067450,00.html

http://www.zebra.com/id/zebra/na/en/index/rfid/faqs/compliance_mandates.html

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Anonymous Poster
#1

Re: June 26, 1974 – The First Universal Product Code (UPC)

06/27/2007 11:27 AM

RFID tags are all the rage, but how are they going to replace UPC barcodes in grocery stores? Can you put an RFID tag on a package of frozen food? How about a candy bar?

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Guru
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#2

Re: June 26, 1974 – The First Universal Product Code (UPC)

06/27/2007 8:43 PM

Hi Moose,

Lets not forget one of the major predecessors to the current UPC system. NCR Corporation had a quite successful proprietary bar code system, although the NCR 747 tag printer (which printed the color-coded tags) was a monster; both in price and maintainability. I speak from experience on the hardware side as I was one of the engineers responsible for keeping the beasts running and that was usually no easy task. The following is an excerpt from this site:

"Chapter III. - NCR's Proprietary Color Bar Code

In 1971, NCR had one of the most significant product releases in its' history. At the Doral Country Club in Miami, a very formal press release was made regarding the 280 Point-of-Sale terminals and associated Color Bar Code system. The fruits of my prior three years' labor (along with many others) were now there for the picking. NCR's Color Bar Code (CBC) system incorporated a transitional code consisting of green and black bars printed on a white background."

Regards,

-John

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: June 26, 1974 – The First Universal Product Code (UPC)

06/28/2007 8:19 AM

Thanks for the comment and the link, John. I'd not heard of the NCR bar code system.

Best,

Moose

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Anonymous Poster
#4

Re: June 26, 1974 – The First Universal Product Code (UPC)

07/17/2007 7:56 PM

And RFIDs can't be 'demaged' like the security devices used now. So I get or build a scanner for RFIDs and drive by your house and 'see' what you bought. Makes it so much easier for thieves and the government to know what you have.

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#5
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Re: June 26, 1974 – The First Universal Product Code (UPC)

07/18/2007 8:25 AM

Come back, Guest! I'd like to hear more about this.

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