Raising the Bar: Bar Code’s Birthday a Reminder of Business Boom with UPC


I’ve seen more than my share of press releases announcing product or company anniversaries throughout my years in newspaper and magazine work. This week brought a surprise — and I’m glad to say a pleasant one.

This month marks the 35th anniversary of the Universal Product Code (UPC), better known as the bar code. Initially developed to help supermarkets expedite the checkout process, it was first used at a Marsh store in Troy, Ohio in 1974. Today, UPCs are scanned more than 10 billion times a day in a wide variety of industries.

Other UPC facts, ones that help keep industry moving:

  • GS1 US is the developer and administrator of the UPC for more than 200,000 businesses in the United States. It will "celebrate" the milestone with a UPC-adorned brthday cake for more than 800 attendees on Wednesday at its annual conference in Orlando
  • The UPC consists of 59 machine-readable black and white bars and 12 human-readable digits
  • Every UPC includes three elements: brand owner’s GS1 company prefix, the specific item’s reference number and a check digit, calculated by the combination of the preceding numbers to ensure data accuracy
  • The UPC does not, contrary to popular opinion, contain a product’s country of origin

Among the testimonials: "The UPC made the modern retail store possible" and this one: "The UPC really is fundamental to commerce. … It has succeeded because it benefits everyone — consumers, retailers and manufacturers. And it has a lot of life left in it."

Thank you to the bar code and its inventors — and many happy returns.

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