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Beginner's Barcode

Part One: WHY Barcodes
So you don't know much, or anything, about barcodes or barcoding technology. To start with, lets ask a very important question; Why Barcodes? Many times the key to understanding a technology is to understand why it came about. The first publication that I ever read concerning barcodes was one written by someone at NCR (National Cash Register) titled: "Keyless Data Entry". This was around 1973. The publication described a method of entering data into a Point of Sale System without having to use the keys. We had gotten to the point where Cash Registers had become data terminals attached to a main computer in large retail and grocery stores. This is why they were no longer even called Cash Registers. When the clerk "rang up" your items this new Cash Register did a lot more than total up your bill and calculate your change. Actually, the clerk didn't even enter the price of the items any more; but rather a series of numbers that described what the item was. This number was sent to the computer. The computer looked up the price and sent it back to the Point of Sale System and also subtracted the product from the store inventory. When the inventory got low enough the computer could process the paperwork to order more products. The computer also compiled various reports for the store management so they knew all about their inventory; what the fast moving products were; the slow moving ones and a lot of other things about how their store was running. Of course the key to accurate transactions and accurate information for management all relied on the clerk entering those numbers accurately.

Well, It didn't take long to realize that human beings are not very good at reading a series of numbers from an object and entering them correctly on a keyboard. A lot of mistakes are made, especially when the clerk is expected to do this hundreds or even thousands of times a day. People just aren't good at this kind of thing! Somehow, a method had to be devised to mark the necessary information on each product in a manner that some type of "machine" could read the information accurately provided that the clerk just held the item so the machine could see this special marking. It would also be necessary that this special marking be added to the product at very little or no cost. This requirement, of course led to the development of barcodes. So now that we know the WHY of it, click below to go to Part 2, which describes HOW barcodes do this.

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