Bar code marks 35 years of use

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The Universal Product Code, better known as the bar code, will celebrate its 35th anniversary Wednesday.

One of the world’s best-known symbols, the U.P.C. comprises a row of 59 machine-readable black and white bars and 12 human-readable digits. Both the bars and the digits convey the same information: the identity of a specific product and its manufacturer.

The bar code was originally developed to help supermarkets speed up the checkout process, and it worked.

Replacing individual price-labeling with the U.P.C. resulted in faster, more accurate checkouts, saving consumers time and money. Shelves were replenished more quickly, and stores were able to increase the frequency of sales. The codes saves an estimated $17 billion for grocery industry each year.

The U.P.C. was adopted by other industries that wanted the same benefits.

Today U.P.C.s are scanned more than 10 billion times a day in applications spanning more than 25 industries.

Each U.P.C. incorporates three elements, the brand owner’s GS1 company prefix, the item’s reference number, and a check digit, which is calculated by the combination of the preceding numbers.