How to Make Your Own Barcode, On the Bar Code's Anniversary

Michael Santo's picture

Those of you who visit Google's website daily just to be sure they don't change their doodle for some sort of special event without your knowledge would have been pleasantly surprised Wednesday. It was indeed different. On Wednesday, Google's latest doodle was a bar code.

At that, quite naturally, brought up the obvious question: why? To be clear, the question is not why would you want to make your own barcode, but why did Google make their doodle a bar code. The answer is, it's the 57th anniversary of the bar code.

The bar code is now used to track just about anything bought (and sold) in many countries and the bar code system was patented in the United States on October 7, 1952. However, it didn't become near-ubiquitous until the 1970s.

The first item scanned was a pack of chewing gum scanned at an Ohio supermarket in 1974. On June 26, 1974, Clyde Dawson pulled a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum out of his basket and it was scanned by Sharon Buchanan at 8:01 AM. The pack of gum and the receipt are now on display in the Smithsonian Institution.

This and other advances have mostly eliminated the need for cashiers to read prices off of items, as well as to be able to make change. Most cashiers in the days of mechanical cash registers had to figure out change in their head, but no longer.

It's also allowed what's seen in some grocery stores: a few checkout lines that are completely cashier-less. The bar code actually began as a bull's-eye pattern, but later morphed into the now familiar UPC code, which is a mix of vertical black-and-white lines.

The familiar bar code stripes had been devised to accommodate the archaic printing technology of the day, which dated back to World War I, explained George Laurer, the retired IBM engineer who invented the UPC.

By then the bar code's bull's-eye pattern had been replaced by the black and white vertical lines still used today in the U.S. and Canada—the universal product code, or UPC.

By then the bar code's bull's-eye pattern had been replaced by the black and white vertical lines still used today in the U.S. and Canada—the universal product code, or UPC. This change was made as a result of the limitations of printers in those days.

If you want to have fun on this festive occasion, you can make your own bar code. There's a site that allows you to go to it and change a value or text string into a bar code. For example, the above bar code is "Google."

Have fun with it. Make your own bar code from your name, or something. And think how much slower retail checkout would be without bar codes.

Check out a few of our latest Goodle doodle stories:

Google's Unexplained Phenomena Doodle a Mystery Itself
Zero Wing: The Solution to Google's Doodle?
Google's Latest Doodle: Mysterious Crop Circles
Google Admits Doodle Series All About "War of the Worlds"

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