Friday, 26 June 2020


On this day in 1974 after nearly a decade in development and first conceived as a method for tracking railcars and shipping containers, the first bar coded, marked with a universal product code (redundantly, UPC code) instead of a price tag item (see previously) was sold at a supermarket in Troy, Ohio.
Cashier Sharon Buchanan scanned (we are dismissive of such acts now as routine but Ms. Buchanan was very much from that moment on an engineer wielding the beam of a powerful helium-neon laser that bounced off a rotating mirror and onto the glass-plated register surface so a central computer could match the label against the shop’s programmed inventory—no mean feat that) a value pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for customer Clyde Dawson (not his only purchase during that visit—just the first one rang up).  Deconstructed, the encoding tables do look a bit like the I Ching, and afterwards the artefact, the (presumably a stand-in unless the purchaser indulged the museum this memento) was acquired by the Smithsonian. I wonder if this first barcode is some sort of talisman, a charm imbued with power over all the scanning to follow.