Executive Briefings

The Men Who Made Bar Codes, Which Were Initially Considered Failures, Get Honored After 40 Years

The men who invented bar codes for scanning groceries-and then watched their idea sit for decades before it was put to use-are being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver came up with the idea of a row of parallel bars to identify products in 1948, and then immediately changed the format to a bulls-eye shape, which they thought would work better.

But it took 25 years (most of which Woodland worked for IBM, which wasn't much interested in the invention) for optical scanning technology to catch up so the idea could be adopted as UPC codes in 1974. And even though bar codes were on their way to becoming the most important technology in retail, by 1976 Business Week pronounced it a failure. Analysts had predicted 1,000 stores would have scanners by then, but only 50 did. Clearly, bar codes were a flop. A decade later they were everywhere.

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The men who invented bar codes for scanning groceries-and then watched their idea sit for decades before it was put to use-are being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver came up with the idea of a row of parallel bars to identify products in 1948, and then immediately changed the format to a bulls-eye shape, which they thought would work better.

But it took 25 years (most of which Woodland worked for IBM, which wasn't much interested in the invention) for optical scanning technology to catch up so the idea could be adopted as UPC codes in 1974. And even though bar codes were on their way to becoming the most important technology in retail, by 1976 Business Week pronounced it a failure. Analysts had predicted 1,000 stores would have scanners by then, but only 50 did. Clearly, bar codes were a flop. A decade later they were everywhere.

Read Full Article