Happy Birthday UPC

This month marks the 35th anniversary of the Universal Product Code (UPC), an innovation that has changed retailing forever. The first live use of a scan took place in a Marsh Supermarkets store in Troy, Ohio, on June 26, 1974, of a package of Wrigley’s gum.

Created by GS1, a non-profit organization, the UPC is a row of 59 machine-readable black and white bars and 12 human-readable digits. The bars and the digits show the identity of a specific product and its manufacturer. Today, there are increasingly sophisticated bar code scan options, including the GS1 Data Matrix resembling a checkerboard; it is capable of holding large amounts of data useful for a wide range of applications.

A UPC is scanned more than a billion times a day by industries including the grocery industry for which it was created, as well as consumer packaged goods, apparel, hardware, food services, healthcare, logistics, government, and high-tech. Use of UPCs saves the grocery industry alone $17 billion annually.


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