Google wishes barcodes happy 57th birthday

The Google doodle this morning is a barcode to celebrate the 57th birthday of the technology. Two Drexel students in the early Fifties came up with the idea after overhearing a conversation between a supermarket exec and an academic. The rest is history. by John Dodge
Written by John Dodge, Contributor

When millions of people this morning switched on their PCs, the ubiquitous Google doodle was unusual. It was a barcode.

Why? Google is celebrating the 57th anniversary of the first patent for barcodes. Google itself says little about its choice its choice except "Invention of the bar code." Normally, the Google herald celebrates a holiday or person, not a thing.

This morning's Google doodle

Patent number 2,612,994 was granted to barcode inventors Norman J. Woodland of Ventnor, N.J. and Bernard Silver of Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 1952. In pure `patentese,' the second paragraph reads as follows:

"It is to provide automatic apparatus for classifying things according to photo-response to lines and/or colors which constitute classification instructions and which have been attached to, imprinted upon or caused to represent the things be classified."

The drawings of the first scanners look like something out of the late 1800s, but there is considerable amount of more contemporary electronics in the patent.

The rest is history. Barcodes are on everything from drug vials to hamburger packages. Actually, there's dozens of different types of barcodes. The doodle spells Google in Code 128, according to Techcrunch.

Google is not exactly a disinterested party when it comes to barcodes. It has an open source project known as ZXing to allow cell phones and cameras to scan barcodes without using a server.

Wikipedia barcode in code 128

What I find remarkable is that when Google honors the barcode by its doodling it, everyone including me writes about it. At the moment, there's 69 related articles about the barcode doodle. It's as if the  government had declared a national barcode holiday. Caesar speaks.

And what of Woodland and Silver? Norman Joseph Woodland, according to Wikipedia, celebrated his 88th birthday on Sept. 6  and got his idea in 1951 while daydreaming at the beach about morse code. As a mechanical engineer, he spent much of career with IBM and was instrumental in coming up the Universal Product Code that put bar codes into practice and your life.

Norman J. Woodland

Silver who died young in 1964 does not have his own Wikipedia page, but was the one who first told Woodland that supermarkets were interested in machines that could automatically identify products at the checkout counter. He learned this after overhearing a conversation between a dean at Drexel University and a supermarket executive. Both Silver (electrical) and Woodland earned engineering degrees from Drexel.

Interestingly, a search of barcodes at Drexel's site yields zero results, but there's plenty about Woodland and a little on Silver.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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