60 Years of the Barcode

As the barcode reaches its 60th anniversary, how far this diamond invention has come and the impact it has on our everyday lives is nothing short of amazing!
 We've come a long way from simple lines in the sand

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Written by Jörk Schüßler, European Marketing Manager for Citizen Systems Europe

Once upon a time, American science graduate Norman Joseph Woodland was sitting on a beach, doodling dots and dashes in the sand. On his mind was a plan to create a product labelling and scanning system for the supermarket checkout using a dot-dash, Morse-style code.

However, when Woodland extended his dots and dashes into long lines with the tip of his finger he hit upon a much more easily readable design that was to become one of the most familiar images of the modern world: the bar code.  

Woodland and fellow science graduate and research partner Bernard Silver received their patent for the code on 7 October 1952 but with the electronics revolution still some way off, the concept saw little product development for many years.

However, by June 1974, the first UPC (Universal Product Code) scanner was installed at a supermarket in Ohio and the first commercial product was scanned - a packet of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum.

With the arrival of the microchip, the available technology at last matched the ambition of the concept and the bar code system was ready to take over the world. Indeed, throughout history, advances in technology have led to many interesting developments for the bar code. 

For example, the imminent launch of the GS1 DataBar code, which will be rolled out as a global standard by 2014, will allow more information to be printed on smaller labels. This will benefit providers of small or irregularly shaped items that are not large enough to accommodate a traditional bar code. 

The latest development of the bar code is the QR (Quick Response) code, that small square containing dozens of tiny black and white shapes that seemed so alien only five years ago but which now, like the bar code, has spread worldwide.

The QR code has sparked much creativity; the company Blue Marble has even offered businesses the opportunity to transform their rooftops into billboards containing QR codes and thus promote themselves via leading navigation applications like Google Earth

It’s rather fitting that this new development in the bar code can be seen from above, just like that first bar code that Norman Joseph Woodland, who passed away recently, traced in the sand all those years ago.


Citizen Systems Europe
Citizen Systems Europe operates from locations throughout Europe covering the EMEA region. It offers a wide range of printers for industrial, retail, healthcare and mobile applications specialising in label, barcode, portable and point-of-sale printers.  In each case, the company’s products are sold and supported by a network of specialised partners.

European Marketing Manager for Citizen System Europe.

Citizen Systems Europe, 643 - 651 Staines Road, Feltham, Middlesex, TW14 8PA. 

Tel: 020 8893 1900. Fax: 020 8893 0080. 


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