Author Susan Benton

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Barcode

In 1949, Joe Woodland was a student at the Drexel Institute of Technology. His friend, Bernard Silver, shared a conversation he had overheard. A supermarket manager had complained to one of their professors about what he saw as two big problems. The checkout process of punching in every single price was too slow, and stocktaking was tedious and time intensive.

Silver knew Woodland loved a challenge. The two set out to solve the problem.

While on vacation on Miami's South Beach, Woodland drew lines in the sand with his four fingers. The lines reminded him of Morse Code but using wide and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes. As soon as he returned, he shared his idea with Silver.

Joe quit grad school. For three years, he and Silver refined it, settling on a circular array of lines. In 1952, they patented the idea. After failing to convince IBM to work on it, the pair sold the patent to Philco, who in turn sold it to RCA.

It wasn't until the early 1970s that a Kroger's grocery store in Cincinnati used a scanner to read the circular design. But it took the invention of laser readers and the shrinking of computers for the idea to become feasible on a large scale.

Once technology caught up with the original idea, IBM took an interest and one of their engineers modified Joe's original circular code into the bar code we know so well today. About another ten years passed before both retailers and manufacturers embraced the idea of marking all products with a bar code.

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(Photo:By Vassia Atanassova - Spiritia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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