George Laurer, co-inventor of the barcode, dies at 94

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George Joseph LaurerImage source, Supplied

George Laurer, the US engineer who helped develop the barcode, has died at the age of 94.

Barcodes, which are made up of black stripes of varying thickness and a 12-digit number, help identify products and transformed the world of retail.

They are now found on products all over the world.

The idea was pioneered by a fellow IBM employee, but it was not until Laurer developed a scanner that could read codes digitally that it took off.

Laurer died last Thursday at his home in Wendell, North Carolina, and his funeral was held on Monday.

It was while working as an electrical engineer with IBM that George Laurer fully developed the Universal Product Code (UPC), or barcode.

He developed a scanner that could read codes digitally. He also used stripes rather than circles that were not practical to print.

Media caption,

Aaron Heslehurst explains how the barcode became a million dollar idea

The UPC went on to revolutionise "virtually every industry in the world", IBM said in a tribute on its website.

In the early 1970s, grocery shops faced mounting costs and the labour-intensive need to put price tags on everything.

The UPC system used lasers and computers to quickly process items via scanning. This meant fewer pricing errors and easier accounting.

The first product scanned, in Ohio in June 1974, was a packet of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It is now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington.

Fellow IBM employee, Norman Woodland, who died in 2012, is considered the pioneer of the barcode idea, which he initially based on Morse code.

Although he patented the concept in the 1950s, he was unable to develop it. It would take a few more years for Laurer to bring the idea to fruition with the help of low-cost laser and computing technology.