The Barcode Turns 61

barcodeThe barcode has turned 61! This important and much-overlooked little aspect of business has now been around since 1952 – and has evolved and changed in a lot of different ways over the years. Let’s take a closer look.

The Barcode’s History

The world’s first barcode was created in 1952 by Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, whose aim was to help speed along the checkout process at supermarkets, an industry that was growing more quickly than business owners could inventory. Early barcodes were round and had a “bulls-eye” design, while the first barcode utilizing the straight lines we know today had just four vertical bars. Woodland and Silver knew that the barcode could be used to help classify different items for sale, but had no idea that their tracking system would pay off so enormously.

Contemporary Uses

The modern UPC code was first used in 1974 on a pack of chewing gum, and is now the standard all over the country and in many other parts of the world. As a tracking and classification system, the barcode is also used for scientific research, where researchers attach tiny barcodes on bees to track their mating habits. Additionally, the U.S. military uses two-foot-long barcodes to differentiate ships in storage, and hospital patients have barcode ID bracelets for easier, more accessible care.

Barcodes have continued to change, however. Many companies are now using vanity barcodes, creating a fun new spin on the old classification system. Other fun updates include the edible barcode, which is printed on foods with squid ink. Other barcodes include the recycling barcode, which targets those who may not otherwise recycle by providing an easy way to figure out just how much their can and bottle deposits are worth.

Of course, in today’s mobile world, there is no way to discuss the barcode without mentioning the QR code. Additionally, barcode scanner apps are now everywhere, an innovative way to compare prices or check the nutrition facts of a particular food item.

The Takeaway

Of course, even if your business is not a brick-and-mortar affair, barcodes are still an enormous part of the mobile world. Additionally, there is definitely something to be said for the level of innovation and creativity that businesses are implementing with their uses of the barcode. From the graphic design elements of the vanity barcode to the incentive for environmentalism provided by the recycling barcode, there are a number of ways to use this fun little aspect of business.

What do you think of the barcode’s history? How might you get creative with the barcode at your business?

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Tree is a somewhat nomadic graduate student pursuing an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from Drew University. A self-identified “diplobrat,” she spent over 16 years living as an expat in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Tree graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, a minor in Studio Art, and a concentration in Landscape Studies. In between writing poetry for school and content for CEM, she dabbles in goat herding and freelancing. Other interests include reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and traveling.

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