Development of the U.P.C. Symbol:
About 1970 McKinsey & Co. (a consulting firm) in conjunction with UGPCC (Uniform Grocery Product Code Council, a corporation formed by the grocery industries leading trade associations) defined a numeric format for product identification. A request was made to many companies to make a proposal of a code, a symbol incorporating the code, and specifications for both. The request went to Singer, National Cash Register, Littion Industries, RCA, Pitney-Bowes, IBM and many others large and small.
Most of the other companies had optical codes and scanning equipment in the market place already. IBM did not. Therefore, in 1971 I was given the task by IBM management to design the best code and symbol suitable for the grocery industry.
After considerable effort I conceived an approach and detailed the symbol. Two other men then worked with me to theoretically calculate the readability and to write IBM's formal proposal to the industry.
We actually submitted three proposals, each with minor changes requested by UGPCC. One was to extend the capacity to eleven digits, and another was to design a "zero suppressed" version.
All contenders were asked to demonstrate their equipment and have it evaluated by Battelle Memorial Institute. I was very instrumental in the design of our equipment and received several patents describing the methods we used in "finding", decoding, and error correction.
In May of 1973, IBM's proposal was accepted. The only changes made by UGPCC was the type font used for the human readable and the ink contrast specification.
Later U.P.C. developments:
Following the acceptance of the original U.P.C. specification, I was asked to find a way to add another digit. The symbol already held twelve, the eleven required by UGPCC and a check digit I added to achieve the required reliability. The addition of the thirteenth digit could not cause the equipment to require extensive modification. Further, the original domestic version could not be modified.
The extra digit would allow for "country identification" and make the U.P.C. world wide. Again I found a way to accommodate the requirement and the EAN (European Article Numbering system) symbol was born. Many countries are using the same symbol with their identifying country "flag" (the 13th digit), but chose to call the symbol by other names. An example is JAN (Japanese Article Numbering system), the Japanese version. The symbol has truly become world wide.
In the years since 1973, I have proposed, and the Uniform Product Code Council, Inc. (formerly UGPCC) has accepted, several other enhancements. Among these enhancements is a price check digit for domestic and another for European markets. There is also an expanded symbol, Version D, which has not yet seen wide use.
For contact information please go to my Contact Page.Revised: October 2001
George J. Laurer
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