I attended portions of a two day meeting on mobile marketing hosted by our Coca-Cola North America colleagues. One of the trending topics is the use of smartphones to scan bar-codes and provide additional information directly to the users phone. They also discussed innovations like the decorative bar-code from Singapore to the left. While this was all neat stuff and really excited the marketers, the historian in me wondered about the origin and history of the Universal Product Code.
The UPC or bar-code was first used on June 26, 1974 in the Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The concept of a machine readable code had been experimented with for several years and we have documentation in our files as early as 1972 when a joint committee was formed with Coca-Cola bottlers and Coca-Cola USA to study the impact of the UPC. It is also interesting to note how much resistance there was to the bar-code. Several of our publications give details to the consumer reaction to the code including the fear that computerized shopping would be more expensive!
However, in 1976 Refresher magazine noted that over 80% of our products and packaging were identified with the now ubiquitous bar-code. It is interesting that the article on the bottom half of that same page notes that with the changes in packaging technology that the end was near for can openers. I found and scanned the photo of the can opener because I had almost forgotten what they looked like. I think the magazine predicted that one right.