Why the U.P.C. is Smiling

June 17, 2009
The highly identifiable code has a birthday. It’s scanned 10 billion times a day in applications spanning more than 25 industries, including consumer packaged goods, apparel, hardware, food services, healthcare, logistics, government and high-tech.

The 35th Anniversary of the Universal Product Code (U.P.C.) was celebrated this month by GS1 US, the not-for-profit organization dedicated to the adoption and implementation of standards-based, global supply-chain solutions.

The U.P.C. is made up of a row of 59 machine-readable black and white bars and 12 human-readable digits. Both the bars and the digits convey the same information—the identity of a specific product and its manufacturer. Every U.P.C. contains three elements: the brand owner’s GS1 Company Prefix, the specific item’s “reference number,” and a “check digit,” calculated by the combination of the preceding numbers in order to ensure data accuracy.

GS1 US explains the first live use of a U.P.C. took place in a Marsh Supermarkets store in Troy, Ohio, on June 26, 1974, when a cashier scanned a package of Wrigley’s gum.

Bob Carpenter, chief executive officer of GS1 US, claims, “The U.P.C. really is fundamental to commerce. It took time to build momentum, but it has succeeded because it benefits everyone: consumers, retailers, and manufacturers. And it has a lot of life left in it.”

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