UPC - The History of the UPC and Item Identification

There have been times when things come along that really impact our lives. One of the significant ones in the past half century is the ability for machines to be able to identify products being sold or in inventory. Although the total effort showed signs of coming about in people's minds over a half century ago with the first creation of a barcode, the concentrated effort occurred in the 1970s and particularly in the early 1970s with the organization of a Committee of Grocery Retailers and Grocery Manufacturers known as the Ad Hoc Committee. This site tells the story of that effort from the start and told in part by the people playing the critical roles in making it happen. This was not a legislated effort. This success came about through the cooperation and agreement among Grocery Retailers, Grocery Manufacturers, and the packagine and printing industries. No government intervention or even government suggesting occurred.

This project saved consumers billions of dollars, empowered new industries, focused older industries such as advertising and promotion, through over five billion uses per day. Retailers in food, general merchandise and manufacturers know their markets in more detail and better than ever thought possible.

early UPC Symbol This site will tell the story of that effort and show the documents and work products that made it possible. We want you to see video streams of participants who in recent times have related details of their prior activities. It is a growing site that encourages sharing written histories from participants. We collect documents and let you read how the project was defined and originally published to the public. You are free to simply view the collections, browse the time line or view the oral and written histories of those who participated.

We want you to enjoy and learn from the information presented here. You are probably free to use any of the information provided here, but we ask that you contact us prior to using it and give credit to the ID History Project as its source. When the information is used on-line would you please link that credit statement back to this site.

What's new?

  1. On April 3, 2017 the site where the symbol was created by George Laurer in the early 1970s was recognized by the City of Raleigh (artifact 187) and a Plaque (artifact 188) recognizing that was placed in the lobby. The ceremony is available on YouTube.
  2. Barry Franz, member of the Symbol Selection Committee, donated the documentation of the logic used for selecting the UPC symbol.
  3. Barry Franz donated minutes from 1972 Ad Hoc, Symbol Selection and Code Managment meetings (items 182 through 184 in the artifacts section). Artifacts 191 through 201 inclue the minutes for interactions that picked the bar coe symbol and the Ad Hoc committee meeting resulting in the symbol's announcement to the industry.
  4. Details from the timeline were summarized into a descriptive story of how the UPC came to be invented and is presented here.
  5. Come back and relive the early days of the UPC. We received a donation of 50 "UPC Newsletters," one of the first monthly newsletters to chronicle the industry as it began applying symbols, dealing with a plethora of special product cases, and live scanning in retail stores. You can begin your visit to those days of yore by clicking here.

In just a few years...

Grocery store shopping changed from stores resembling this prior to 1973

Into Scanning stores with much lower checkout profiles by 1976 that looked like this:

Grocery Checkout in 1972 prior to UPC Barcode Early History UPC Scanning Checkout
Grocery Checkout in 1972 prior to UPC Barcode Early History UPC Scanning Checkout
Grocery Checkout in 1972 prior to UPC Barcode Early History UPC Scanning Checkout
Grocery Checkout in 1972 prior to UPC Barcode Early History UPC Scanning Checkout