The Humble Barcode celebrates it’s 50th birthday

Posted on Thursday, Apr 6, 2023 by Chris Hayner

Featured in this episode of Chaos Lever

You heard me- 50, and it can still kick and stretch. Well, sort of. The original patent was registered in 1952, but the technology got bounced around for 20-odd years until it achieved its final form in 1973.

The utility of the barcode is really what took so long to get ironed out- barcodes need to be equally effective for large and small products, as well as solid materials like boxes and flexy ones like bags of chips. In 1974 the commercial version of the barcode was finally used on its very first product- a multi-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

These days there’s a single company, Global Standard 1 that manages globally unique barcodes for north of 2 million companies and just an enormous number of products. Pretty clever what they were able to do with just a few thicker and thinner lines.

It’s likely that the barcode’s days of dominance are numbered, though. Improvements in both materials and printing as well as laser scanner accuracy have allowed the QR code to take over, and it’s likely that trend will continue. GS1 anticipates a new QR-based barcode to be in widespread use by 2027.