The Man Who Brought You Barcodes Dies

Holly Richmond
Monday, Jun 20, 2011 at 5:42 PM



Alan Haberman's name might not mean anything to you, but he changed your life. While he didn't invent the UPC code, it's largely thanks to him that it was adopted. As a tribute to him in the New York Times says:

Mr. Haberman led the industry committee that chose the barcode over other contenders — circles, bull’s-eyes and seemingly random agglomerations of dots — in 1973.

By all accounts, he spent years afterward cajoling manufacturers, retailers and the public to accept the strange new symbol, which resembles a highly if irregularly compacted zebra. His efforts helped cement the marriage between the age-old practice of commerce and the new world of information technology.

Currently, over 5 billion UPC codes (or 1D barcodes) are scanned every day, according to the Times. Whoa.

The Times' story behind the adoption of UPC codes is, interestingly, similar to the adoption of 2D barcodes today: several options, with the market yet to unify on one. Before UPC codes became the standard, food manufacturers worried that different grocery stores would want different types of barcodes on products. Haberman convinced the committee of supermarket execs that he chaired to unanimously agree on UPC codes. He went on to found the Uniform Code Council, now known as GS1 US, a nonprofit in New Jersey dedicated to issuing UPC codes.

While Haberman is gone (he passed away last week at 81), his legacy lives on wherever you see a thin red beam of light scanning a barcode.

Isn't it amazing what one good idea can do? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.


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