Appendix A. History of the UPC

When getting acquainted with barcodes used for tagging products, you’ll come across a plethora of abbreviations. Some of these are names of barcode symbologies, and others are names of companies or organizations. Barcodes representing product numbers have had several different names over the course of their history, and multiple organizations have developed and maintained the related standards. Most people find this quite confusing initially.

This section provides an overview of the development of the very first barcode, the Universal Product Code (UPC). This brief history includes several informative as well as amusing lessons, and it also reveals the connections between several actors, standards, and organizations.

While your colleagues will still be confused as to the difference between UPC-A, EAN-13, and GTIN, you’ll be able to confidently play the part of the barcode guru when discussing barcodes for use in your company or apps.

A.1. Bull’s-eye origins

An old saying goes “war is good for business.” Indeed, the United States experienced an unprecedented economic upturn during the Second World War (1939–1945) as soldiers were removed from their normal workplace to fight abroad, and jobs at home were filled by the formerly unemployed.

A.2. Startup story

A.3. UPC plus EAN equals GTIN

A.4. Barcodes in the mobile age

A.5. Summary