Universal product code anniversary

invented specifically for grocery stores

UPC-GTIN-12@2x-e1497650777803A few months back, we hit the fortieth anniversary of the UPC code or universal product code. How DID I miss that?

Before getting into the particulars, there some sort of designation for abbreviations that then use the actual word in an unnecessary manner. The C in UPC IS Code, so UPC code is redundant. Likewise, ATM machine, since the abbreviation means automatic teller machine. They are Redundant Acronyms and Initialisms.

UPC is a barcode that is widely used for tracking trade items in stores. It “consists of 12 numeric digits that are uniquely assigned to each trade item. Along with the related EAN barcode, the UPC is the barcode mainly used for scanning of trade items at the point of sale, per GS1 specifications.”


“In 1974, the first Universal Product Code was scanned… at a Marsh’s Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. [It] had agreed to serve as a test facility for the new technology, and the first item scanned was a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum. There’s no significance to [that]; it just happened to be the first thing pulled from the cart. That pack of gum is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.”

That gum must be REALLY stale.

“The UPC bar code system was originally invented specifically for grocery stores, to speed checkout and help them keep better track of their inventory, but it proved so successful that it spread quickly to other retailers. The first patent for a bar code went to N. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in 1952. They didn’t do anything with it for 20 years, because the scanning technology didn’t exist yet.

“By 1972, Woodland was working for IBM, and it was there that the bar code design was perfected and the prototype scanner was built in 1973. The IBM 3660 included a digital cash register and checkout scanner, and the grocery industry, which had been collaborating with IBM on the invention, began requiring its suppliers to start putting bar codes on their packaging.”

And now, as a sardonic friend of mine notes, these days we scan it ourselves, and cashiers have been laid off.

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