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June 12: The Bar Code

June 12, 2013
alan-haberman-barcodeAlan L. Haberman, the supermarket executive who campaigned for acceptance of universal product coding (UPC) — the bar code — died at 81 on this date in 2011. UPC technology was invented by Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, students at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, who patented their invention in 1952. However, scanner technology was inadequate and competing technologies proliferated until Haberman headed a committee of a dozen supermarket executives who chose a modification of the Woodland-Silver model created in 1973 by George J. Laurer of I.B.M. As founder of the Uniform Code Council, Haberman campaigned for the adoption of UPC across many industries. It was, he said, “a kind of Esperanto that works for everyone.” The bar code has enabled many industries to cut back on their workforces and squeeze much greater productivity out of their workers, which is one key reason it has spread everywhere: “At hospitals throughout the world,” wrote Margalit Fox in the New York Times obituary for Haberman, “newborns are identified by means of bar codes on bracelets. Marathon runners take to the streets, bar codes on chests. Scientists tracking the movements of honeybees have glued tiny bar codes onto their backs.” A pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum that was the first scanned item in 1974 is on display at the Smithsonian Institute. “The least pleasant experience in a store . . . is having to wait in line.” —Alan L. Haberman JEWDAYO ROCKS! Len Barry (Leonard Borisoff), lead singer on “The Bristol Stomp” and “You Can’t Sit Down,” was born in Philadelphia on this date in 1942.
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