What Was the First Commercial Product to Use a Barcode?
Answer: A Pack of Wrigley’s Juice Fruit Gum
In the late 1940s Bernard Silver, a graduate student at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, began work on a system for easily coding product information for quick access during the checkout process after overhearing the president of a local grocery chain asking the Dean of his department if research could be done on the subject.
After several false starts involving various ideas like UV ink (too expensive and too quick to fade) he started working on a method inspired by the simplicity of Morse code. That system would evolve over a year of testing into what we now know as the barcode–Silver filed for the patent in 1949.
Over the next decades Silver pitched the system to various companies with limited success–this included marketing the system to IBM and setting up a rail-car tracking system for the Association of American Railroads. The barcode didn’t begin its rise to ubiquity until after a series of retail tests at the behest of the National Association of Food Chains. Even then, the barcode only appeared on a commercial product after a decade and a half of testing.
On June 26, 1974 at a Marsh’s Supermarket in Troy, Ohio–one of the test stores used by the NAFC–Clyde Dawson purchased a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum which was scanned by cashier Sharon Buchanan. That 10-pack of gum kicked off the commercialization and widespread adoption of the barcode and, a quarter center after its invention, finally brought together the grocery chain president’s problem with a workable solution. The bundle of Wrigley’s gum and the receipt are on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute.