I remember purple inked stamping machines used to label items in a grocery store. In my youth I worked many a register where I had to punch in each and every price for each and every item.
Enter the barcode.
The very first barcode was scanned in a supermarket in Ohio, in 1974. (For trivia buffs: This first scanned product was a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, on display now at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.)
But the invention goes back way way before 1974. The inspiration came on the beach to N. Joseph Woodland, back in 1948. He says he stuck his hand in the sand, and when pulling his fingers back through the sand, he saw the lines…. and …… ding! ding! ding! … the barcode was born.
N. Joseph Woodland and his friend Bernard Silver worked on the invention and filed a patent in 1949. But the tricky part, developing something to READ the lines, eluded them, and they sold their invention in 1952 for $15,000.
IBM eventually took the barcode to it’s debut in 1974, but Woodland was credited as a co-inventor and was honored by the White House in 1992 with the highest U.S. honor for technological achievement, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
N. Joseph Woodland died last week at the age of 91.