A Brief History of Barcodes: Part 1

As food chain stores began to grow into the giant super market chains we have today a need for reading product information at checkout was required. Bernard Silver, a graduate student at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, USA, investigated a solution. In 1948 a request was put to the institute to research a method of automatically reading the information about a product at checkout.

Together with Norman Joseph Woodland, Silver worked towards solving the problem. Woodland first had the idea of using ultraviolet light and an ink that was sensitive to the light. They built a prototype and found that the inks faded over time. Undeterred, Woodland moved to Florida, but the pair continued on the project. Woodland constructed his first barcode from sand on the beach. Inspired by morse code, Woodland extended the dots and dashes downwards making wide and narrow lines of them. On 20th October 1949 Woodland and Silver filed a patent application entitled, "Classifying Apparatus and Method". The patent was issued on 7th October 1952.

Woodland went to work for IBM, who researched the idea further, deciding that processing the information stored in these first barcodes needed technology that was unobtainable at the time. The patent was sold to a company called Philco in 1952 and then sold on to RCA.

Check back for part 2.

Posted: 06-03-2011 19:15:27