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George T Reed's blog

Recollections of The Early Days of UPC

These are a few memories of experiences I had during the late sixties and early seventies. I hope you enjoy it...

George T. Reed
Graphic Superintendent (1961-1989)
Westvaco Corporation
Newark, Delaware


The Early Days of UPC


The earliest known effort to identify grocery products by numbers began in 1932. Wally Flint, a student at Harvard University wrote a master?s thesis, The Universal Product Code (UPC) describing a numbered metal tag on grocery products. His thesis was the beginning of the ?bar code.?

In the early 1960's a representative of IBM, located at Research Triangle, North Carolina, was browsing through the Harvard library and happened to notice Wally Flint?s thesis. The procedure came to life with the development of IBM's modern grocery check-out counter and several other manufacturer?s hand-held (laser) scanners. Using this new technology, supermarkets could easily maintain inventory data and the check-out counters could be automated.

UPC Almost Did Not Happen.

At an early meeting of the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC) in Washington, D.C., the plant manager of Weyerhauser (a carton printing company in Pennsauken, New Jersey) said his plant printed millions of milk cartons daily by flexography (rubber plates with raised images). He stated they could not print the UPC and maintain the straight lines and spaces required because the rubber flexography plates would deform under printing pressure.

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