two ways to tell this story.
The first describe one of those classic moments of inventive brilliance.
In 1948, Joseph Woodland, a graduate student at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, United States, was turning to a question that had been raised by a local merchant: there would be some way to
speed up payment in your stores automating the tedious process of registering the transaction?
Woodland was a smart young man. During the war he had worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. And, on the other side of the spectrum, he had also designed an improved system to play elevator music. But this riddle had him perplexed.
On a visit to her parents in Miami Beach, she sat on the beach to think, while playing distractedly with the sand, dropping it between her fingers. When his eyes fell on the
furrows and ridges that his game had left in the sand, something occurred to him.
Just as the Morse code uses dots and lines to convey a message, thin and thick lines can be used to encode information. A zebra stripe target (such as those used for target shooting) can describe a product and its price in a code that a machine could read.
From Diana to Rectangle
With the technology of the time it was possible to realize the idea, but it was expensive. However, the advancement of computers and the invention of laser machines made it more realistic.
The system of the stripes that were scanned was independently rediscovered and refined several times over the years.
In the 50s, engineer David Collins stamped thin and thick lines on train cars so that they could be identified by automatically reading a scanner.
In the early 1970s, IBM engineer George Laurer came up with the idea that a rectangle will be more compact than the target Woodland had designed and developed a system that used lasers and computers so fast that it could process bags of products just by passing them over. the scanner.
The scribbles in the sand of Joseph Woodland had become a technological reality.
But there is one
second way to tell the story. It is as important as the first, only it is much drier.
In September 1969, members of the administrative systems committee of the Association of Food Manufacturers (GMA) met with their counterparts from the National Association of Food Chains of the United States (NAFC for its acronym in English) ).
Place of appointment: a motel in Cincinnati. The theme of the meeting: try to reach an agreement between GMA food producers and NAFC food sellers on a code for products.
The GMA wanted an 11-digit code, which encompassed several types of labels they were already using. The NAFC wanted one of 7 digits, which could be read by simpler and cheaper systems in the box. They could not agree and left frustrated.
I took years of delicate diplomacy – and countless committees, subcomits and ad hoc committees – until finally the US food industry agreed to a standard for the Universal Product Code or Universal Product Code (UPC).
More crucial than one would think
Both stories came true in June 1974, at the cashier at the Marsh supermarket in Troy City in Ohio, when a 31-year-old cashier named Sharon Buchan scanned a packet of Wrigley's chewing gum, automatically recording the Price of US $ 0.67.
The sale of chewing gum was the presentation in society of the bar code.
We tend to think of this rectangle with lines as a mere technological tool to save money: it helps supermarkets do their business more efficiently, and we also, because that translates into lower prices.
But he did much more and that is the reason why the second way of telling the story is as important as the first.
barcode changed the balance of power In the food industry.
That is why all those committee meetings were necessary; That is why the food sales industry could only finally accept the proposal when the technicians who went to those committees were replaced by the chiefs of their chiefs: the executive directors.
There was much that was at stake. As time went by it became clear that the bar code was going to tip the balance in favor of a certain type of merchant. For small family businesses, adopting the system was a solution to problems they didn't really have.
For their part, large supermarkets can offset the cost of scanners because they sell many more products.
And the advantages were multiple: the rows were shorter in the boxes; the easiest inventory to make; avoided the thefts that a manual box facilitated (the assistant could put the money in his pocket while if he had to scan the products, no). And, in a decade of high inflation in the US, the bar code allows them to change product prices without having to label each item.
The white and black marquilla took the retail industry and, with it, large supermarkets expanded in the 70s and 80s.
The arrival of a giant
With the ability to automate inventory and track it, the cost of offering a wide range of products was reduced. Stores in general and supermarkets in particular began selling from flowers to electronic devices.
Managing a diverse and logistically complex operation on a large scale had become much easier thanks to the bar code. Perhaps the highest expression of that great change came in 1988, when the department store Wal-Mart discounts decided to start selling food.
It became the largest food chain in the United States and by far the largest retailer on the planet, almost as large as its five closest rivals together. Wal-Mart was one of the first to adopt the barcode and has continued to invest in computerized logistics and inventory management. It became an important portal between Chinese manufacturers and American consumers.
Having embraced the technology helped him grow to such a vast scale that he can send buyers to China and commission cheap products in such high volumes that it allows Chinese manufacturers to establish complete production lines for only one customer: Wal-Mart.
That great little work
Technology lovers rightly celebrate the moment of inspiration that Joseph Woodland had when he played softly with his fingers in the sand. But the bar code is not just a way to trade more efficiently; It is also something that established what kind of shops can be efficient.
That is why it became a symbol of the forces of global impersonal capitalism so strong that it ended up being used to protest against what it symbolizes.
Since the 1980s there have been people who register their opposition to the system by drawing a code bar. So, yes, those distinctive black and white lines are a great little engineering work.
However, it is worth remembering that this small and brilliant engineering work changed the way in which the world economy fits.
. Bar code: how a code that came out of the sand of a beach transformed world trade – LA NACION