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With so many different products on the market today, it's imperative that retailers and manufacturers be able to track inventory and charge the correct price for their products. The barcode revolutionized how we buy things and how we pay for items. A barcode is a data based optical code that is scanned by a machine that then logs the item, and attaches the identity of what that product is, as well as the price attached to it. Barcodes are used in almost every industrialized nation today, but the concept was first developed in the United States. A traditional barcode looks like a series of vertical lines and numbers, but new technology for barcodes can range from dots and rectangles to hexagons and other optical shapes.

History of the Barcode

The first use of a barcode can be traced back to 1948 in the state of Pennsylvania. A man by the name of Bernard Silver was listening to a discussion by the owner of a popular grocery store called Food Fair and how he wished he'd had a better, easier way to track his inventory. Silver decided to work on developing a new way to easily scan food and other products. The first barcode he developed used ultraviolet ink, but it was not practical. The ink was expensive and faded very quickly, so he continued to work on new ways to make the process easier and more user-friendly. About a year later, he worked on several different new processes that focused on a bulls-eye code, and pitched idea to IBM in 1951. By 1952, the barcode received a patent. Over the next decade, different formats of barcodes were developed and tested. In 1966, the new barcode which consisted of eleven numbers and was first tested by Kroger supermarkets. Stickers were applied to products by people working in the stores when they put the price tags on them. The problem was that the ink smeared, and made it almost impossible for the scanners to read. Several tweaks were made, and by the late 1970s into 1980, approximately 8,000 stores were using the barcode. Scanners were manufactured by a company called NCR, and the very first barcode scan with this new machinery took place in Ohio at a Marsh's Supermarket in 1974. A customer purchased a package of Wrigley's gum and it scanned successfully. That pack of gum is now on display in the Smithsonian Museum, along with the receipt. The popularity of this new process caught on quickly, and today barcodes are used in every store on almost every product across the globe. Companies can transport products easily and can account for the cargo more efficiently thanks to this modern wonder.

Applications and Uses of the Barcode

Today, there are many different styles and types of barcodes used. The UPC symbol is still the most commonly used type of barcode in the United States. This barcode consists of long and short black lines on a white background along with a series of digits. It is also used worldwide in many other nations because of its widespread and easy to generate application. A new, popular form of barcode known as a QR code or Quick Response code is much more technologically advanced. This code can be scanned by cell phones, and then the code transmits a large amount of information about the product through multimedia such as pictures, videos, and information about where to purchase the product. Barcodes of all kinds have several different uses. Some examples include retail merchandise, groceries and produce, medical supplies, and even mail and packages. Almost everything we buy today has some kind of barcode attached. Many modern hospitals also use barcodes for patients so that the information about them including their medical records is quickly scanned and entered into the hospital's database. The barcode is imprinted onto a bracelet that stays on the patient while they are there. Shipping is probably one of the most important and significant uses for barcodes. By scanning large cargo or boxes of merchandise, those items are entered into the logistics stream and then tracked. This information can be used by companies to determine overall sales, how quickly their products reach the consumer, and can contribute to gaining a better understanding of profit and loss based on these codes. It can also gain assessment of sales speed which can help to prevent over production and distribution, saving money. The barcode has truly revolutionized the way companies do business and move materials across borders and into our homes.

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