How Morse code changed shopping

(CNN) – On June 26, 1974 a pack of Juicy Fruit gum made history when it was the first item ever to be scanned via a state-of-the art technology: the barcode.

Now, more than 40 years later, as many as 5 billion barcodes are scanned every day across the world.

The code itself, those black lines of varying width on the label, was inspired by Morse code.  But the holy smokes component of the innovation was how it was scanned by lasers.

Lasers had been the stuff of nerd fantasies until the early 1960s, when the Hughes Aircraft Company unveiled the first one at a press conference.

A Los Angeles newspaper reported the story underneath the headline, “LA man discovers science fiction death ray.”

The fact of the matter is, no one really knew what to do with that new technology until that June morning in 1974 when a pack of Juicy Fruit gum in Ohio changed the world.

Today, barcodes are the unsung heroes that make everything from shipping to boarding an airplane to keeping track of medication possible.

The biggest beneficiary is retail.  Think about a grocery store from yester-year.

Every individual item had to be marked with its price, and the cashier had to manually input it into the register.

So thanks to the barcode, you’re waiting in the checkout line a whole lot less and the stores themselves benefited big time.

The barcodes allow them to keep accurate, real-time inventory. That’s a major advance in efficiency, even if it cost some grocery staff their jobs.

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