American co-inventor of barcode dies at 94

US engineer George J Laurer is recognised as the co-inventor of the barcode, which can be found on millions of products, services and other items for identification.
US engineer George J Laurer is recognised as the co-inventor of the barcode, which can be found on millions of products, services and other items for identification.PHOTOS: UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, AP

MIAMI • US engineer George J. Laurer, who co-invented the barcode and helped transform the retail world in the 1970s, died at home last week at age 94.

The former IBM employee's funeral was held on Monday in his hometown of Wendell, North Carolina, the family announced.

Mr Laurer is recognised as the co-inventor of the Universal Product Code (UPC), or barcode, which can be found on millions of products, services and other items for identification.

The marking - made up of black bars of varying thickness and a 12-digit number - can be scanned, quickly identifying the product and its price.

In 1969, he rose to become senior IBM engineer and scientist in Raleigh, North Carolina, according to a tribute posted on the company's website.

"Only a few years later, in 1973, Mr Laurer went on to spearhead the development of the now-ubiquitous UPC symbol that revolutionised virtually every industry in the world," it said.

Fellow IBM employee Norman Woodland, who died in 2012, is considered the pioneer of the barcode idea, which he initially based on Morse code. He patented the concept in 1952 but was unable to develop it - years before low-cost laser and computing technology.

Two decades later, Mr Laurer developed a scanner that could read codes digitally. He also used stripes rather than circles that had proved impractical to print.

IBM launched the product in 1973, and the first barcode transaction took place on June 26 of the following year, in a supermarket in the city of Troy, Ohio.

Mr Laurer developed a scanner that could read codes digitally. He also used stripes rather than circles that had proved impractical to print.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2019, with the headline 'American co-inventor of barcode dies at 94'. Print Edition | Subscribe