Beyond History Blog

The Sound of Shopping

Andrea Bentschneider - 26. June 2015 - General, Historical Events, Old Customs, Traditions

When our parents, grandparents or great grandparents went grocery shopping, it sure looked different from today. Shops were smaller, the range of goods was limited and you couldn’t check what you needed for that special lasagna recipe on your smartphone in the middle of aisle 4!

But shopping also had a different sound back then. The monotone beeping at the check-out is something we are used to today. But it is the sound of one of the greatest supermarket innovations of the 20th century: I’m talking about the barcode-system. On 26 June 1974 the first product marked with a barcode was registered: It was a pack of “Juicy Fruit” gum in a supermarket in Ohio.

After decades of trials brought no success, the code system finally worked. And it had a major advantage: With the offer of products getting bigger every day, the cashiers didn’t have to remember the prices and type them by hand anymore. This saved a lot of time and effort – a success! In 1976, the barcode system was introduced in Europe. 

Until today, not much has changed about the system. However, some new code forms, such as the QR-Code, joined the family. A supermarket without a coding system is very unusual today. And even in architecture, the barcodes served as an inspiration: The design of the state library of Saxony in Dresden for example is influenced by the barcode idea that is thought as a reference to the identification marks on the library’s goods.

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