Monday, June 27, 2011
A pack of Juicy Fruit gum is in the Smithsonian Museum, but not for the reasons one might think. It is there because it was the first item ever rung up using a universal product code, more commonly known as a barcode. Today those barcodes are everywhere. In libraries, retail, hospitals, and cargo carriers barcodes have penetrated modern society, perhaps like no other product.
To get to that point took many people working independently with ambitious dreams. The first ones to work on the project were Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver who developed the first barcode in 1952, based on the Morse code, but shaped like a bull’s eye. They filed a patent for their proposal on October 20, 1949. However, the system proved cost prohibitive. The equipment also proved unreliable. The idea seemed to stop before it got started.
Grocery shoppers were still frustrated with long lines, as cashiers had to enter each item manually. One of those frustrated was retailer Alan Haberman, who passed away recently.
Alan Haberman was so tired of standing in long lines that he convened a committee of business owners and managers to develop a universal product code. Manufactures feared that large grocery chains would require their own product code be placed on the product, if a universal system could not be developed. Grocers demanded a plan be developed to reduce labor costs, especially during a period of high inflation. The original system, created by George J. Laurer of I.B.M., was based largely on the original system designed by Norman Woodland and Barnard Silver and consisted on eleven vertical lines. Alan Haberman was instrumental in the system being adopted, during a time when others favored a wide range of systems.
The barcode has become truly global, thanks to Mr. Haberman, who spent many hours convincing his colleagues that this was the right system. His motivation was not profit, but he was tired of standing in the long lines. Mr. Haberman is survived by his wife, and his two children.