When Were Barcode Scanners Invented

Barcodes and barcode scanners have come a long way since their inception in the early fifties. Its applications have revolutionized the processes involved in private and public businesses. Its applications are diverse.

Today, you can find barcodes in credit cards, identification cards, consumer products, and more. The first barcodes made their appearance in the early 50’s. But it wasn’t until the 1970’s that people applied their full potential.

Their introduction has facilitated with efficiency business sales and inventories. This is especially true in the case of the supermarket businesses.

Before the advent of barcodes and scanners, checking out of purchased groceries and counting inventories were all done manually. This was a tedious, time consuming and laborious endeavor. Worse, this was prone to unintentional inaccuracies. Barcodes and the modern-day scanners have made all these easier and more accurate.

The beginnings of barcode scanners

For a barcode to work, you need a barcode scanner. One will not work without the other. Perhaps exasperated by the time-consuming work involved in sales and inventories, a Philadelphia grocery chain owner asked for help.

He requested the researchers at the Drexel Institute of Technology to come up with a method to read product data automatically during customer check-out. Norman Joseph Woodland was the researcher who started to work for a solution.

It took two years for Woodland to invent a system that worked. The basis of the first barcode was Morse code. He used dots and dashes to represent the product number. He then extended the lines of each symbol vertically to come up with the linear code.

Next was the scanner. The history becomes a little bit more technical. It even involves some elements of a movie sound system. Woodland’s scanner started with a sensitive tube. This tube can detect a movie projector’s light as it shines through the side of the film.

The film converted the light detected into sound. Woodland’s ingenuity converted the reflected light into numbers. And that was how he invented the barcode.

The patent for Woodland’s modern-day barcode and barcode scanner came in 1952. The innovation attracted many investors. IBM wanted to purchase the rights. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company purchased the patent. We now consider this company as the first barcode manufacturer. The company later sold the patent to RCA.

Introducing barcode scanners to grocery stores

Previously, it must have been a laborious job for grocery stores to keep track of the coming and going of goods daily. More so with big grocery chains. Expansion automatically meant more time and effort expended in keeping track of sales and inventories. In the 1930’s, they used punch cards to ease the burden but they weren’t that effective.

Much worse, they were expensive and bulky. There needed to be a better way. They needed a more efficient way to track sales and inventories in the grocery business.

In the summer of 1974, 3 supermarkets made the first innovative move to use barcodes and scanners. In June of 1974, Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, installed a prototype system.

A 10-pack of Juicy Fruit gum was the first item scanned. In July of 1974, Steinberg’s Grocery Store in Montreal, Canada and Pathmark Store in Plainfield, New Jersey followed suit. They had their production scanning systems installed.

The grocery industry worked progressively for years to create the Universal Product Code. This would eventually turn into the modern-day Point of Sale System. Based on a trial period, using this type of a barcode system resulted in a lot of benefits.

Modern barcode scanners

Technology these days is fast-paced. Manufacturers make new products which they improve or update regularly. Demand plays an important role in change. The same factor has introduced in the market various types of every product. Barcode scanners are no exemption. Makers of readers become more innovative so their products can best the competition.

Today, there are scanners of different sizes. They also differ in uses and prices. These scanners serve a vast range of financial and organizational applications. These include pricing retail goods, performing organizational and logistical services, keeping track of shipments, and managing financial documents. Here are the different types of scanners:

Pen or Wand Scanner

This is the smaller type of barcode scanner. It looks and functions almost similarly like a pen or a wand. On its tip are a photodiode and a LED light. You wave the tip of the pen/wand over the barcode. Do this over the black and white bars illuminated by the LED light. The photodiode will then measure the light’s reflection. The read information is then transmitted to the host for processing.

Laser Scanner

This reader takes more precise and exact light readings. It prevents scanner errors or false positives. As the title suggests, this scanner works with a laser beam. The laser beam gets reflected off a mirror and then moved over the barcode.

The level of reflection gets measured and translated into digital signal readout. This reader can either be hand-held or you can mount it on a scanning unit. Laser scanners are becoming more popular and that’s why there are a lot of laser scanner product reviews available.

2D Camera Scanner

Barcodes involved with this reader do not contain black and white bars. Instead, the code is more like black and white spaces in 2D.

Standard machines are incapable to read these 2D codes. But these codes contain more information than its regular counterpart. Reading is almost similar though. The pen light flashes over the barcode. It takes a picture of the barcode and transmits it as a digital signal to the host which decodes the data.

Charge Coupled Device

This reader has hundreds of small LED lights aligned in a long row. These lights shine directly onto the code. Then a sensor measures the voltage of ambient light that is in front of each light bulb.

Barcode scanners have really come a long way since the introduction of their parent device in the 1950’s. It was even dubbed then as a technology of the future. Today, you can find their applications almost everywhere.

Early on, our older generations depended on dots and dashes. They read these dots and dashes then converted them into numbers. Today, scanners will do the job more effectively. They read black and white zebra lines. Then they transmit the data to a checkout terminal or computer for decoding.

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