Print Perspectives

The Barcode: Celebrating 50 Years of Retail Innovation

June 26, 2024

Barcode UPC

The barcode, a symbol of modern retail, marks its 50th anniversary, a milestone that traces back to a supermarket in Ohio. This seemingly simple technology revolutionized the way we shop, manage supply chains, and market to consumers.

Dayton, Ohio, often dubbed the "City of Invention", played a pivotal role in this retail revolution. It was here in 1879 that the cash register was born out of a saloon owner's need to prevent employee theft, laying the groundwork for the development of the sales transaction process we know today.

Barcode Juicy Fruit package

A 10-pack of Juicy Fruit gum was the first product scanned at checkout in 1974

The innovation didn't stop there. Dayton was also the birthplace of the Universal Product Code (UPC) scanning system. On June 26, 1974, the first product with a UPC barcode, a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum, was scanned at Marsh's Supermarket, forever changing the retail landscape. This system, developed to improve inventory management and checkout processes, has become ubiquitous in retail operations worldwide and has helped spawn personalized direct marketing.

High-speed inkjet printing, which also has its roots in the Dayton area with the Mead Corporation and now Kodak, has enabled the printing of personalized coupons and offers linked to consumer purchase histories registered through barcode scans. For instance, a single KODAK PROSPER Plus Imprinting System can now print over 65 personalized coupons per second1!

Barcode custom coupon collage

Barcodes are now an integral part of retail direct marketing

As we celebrate the barcode's golden anniversary, it's worth looking back on how a series of innovations from Dayton have shaped the retail industry. From the cash register to the UPC scanning system, and high-speed inkjet printing, these developments have not only streamlined operations but also transformed the consumer experience.

The barcode's journey from a simple inventory tool to a global standard for product identification exemplifies the power of innovation. The barcode, along with the cash register, UPC scanning system, and high-speed inkjet printing, are reminders of how innovation can come from the desire to solve simple problems and end up transforming the world.

1Assumes PROSPER Plus Imprinting System integrated on 1,000 foot per minute press or finishing equipment; promotional flyer includes 4 coupons per A4 page.