Bar code patent issued 60 years ago today to Drexel researchers

Tom Paine

Illustration from original bar code  patent
The first patent for a bar code was issued to Drexel researchers Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver on this day 60 years ago (October 7, 1952). Woodland and Silver began working on the concept as graduate students in 1948, and filed the patent application in 1949. By 1951 Woodland had moved to IBM, where he tried to encourage development of the patent. IBM was not interested in that at the time but did offer to buy the patent, but was turned down. Philco later purchased the patent in 1962 and then sold it to RCA.

Silver later taught physics at Drexel but died in 1963 at the age of 38. Woodland, who just turned 91, later had a role in helping IBM implement the bar code.

The bar code did not come into widespread commercial use until the mid-1970s. IBM and the supermarket industry led efforts to develop standards, and with the invention of Uniform Product Code (U.P.C) in 1973, the use of bar codes in supermarkets first began in 1974.

This infographic published by a bar code technology firm gives a short version of the bar code's history.


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