The lead developer of the bar code system that became the now-ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC), George Laurer, K4HZE, of Wendell, North Carolina, died on December 5. He was 94. While an electrical engineer with IBM in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park in the early 1970s, Laurer led the effort to develop the bar code system. The UPC, composed of 30 unique black bars and a 12-digit number, allows retailers to identify products and prices as they are scanned. It was used for the first time in a retail setting in 1974.
Laurer also later patented one of the first handheld UPC scanners, according to his obituary. As The Washington Post reported, “The bar-code concept had originated in the 1940s, when N. Joseph Woodland designed a bull’s eye-shaped system of concentric circles, inspired by the dots and dashes of Morse code.” Woodland became a colleague of Laurer’s at IBM, and Laurer considered him “the father of the supermarket scanning system.”
A native of New York, Laurer served in the US Army during World War II after being drafted while he was still a junior in high school. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1951 and spent 3 decades working for IBM.
Accounts describe Laurer as an inveterate tinkerer, even up to his final years.
IBM never patented the bar code system, but made it publicly available in order to sell the associated hardware.
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