Milestone-Proposal:Birthplace of the Bar Code, 1948

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Docket #:2009-06</div> This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on "Edit with form", check the "Submit this proposal for review" box at the bottom, and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old?

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy.

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity?

Was it of at least regional importance?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony?

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated?

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Birthplace of the Bar Code, 1948

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?


IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Philadelphia Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Philadelphia Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

Unit: Philadelphia Section
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Proposer's name masked to public
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Drexel University, Philadelphia PA USA

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The plaque will be affixed to a permanent wall on the ground floor in the Edmund D. Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Drexel University, 3140 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19104 USA (39.95554342883535, -75.18626689910889). The Bossone Center is placed in the general area where in 1948 the first discussions on barcodes took place between Silver, Woodland and others. This is a public area, well lit, and accessible without restriction Monday to Friday from 7AM to 11PM local time. No appointment requirements nor security barriers limit access at those times.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The site is protected by Drexel University staff and security. This is a public area, well lit, accessible to the public without restriction Monday to Friday from 7AM to 11PM local time. No appointment requirements nor security barriers limit access at those times. There are often events, open houses, and parties organized nearby, and there is a lot of visitor and student traffic there.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Drexel University

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

The bar code required simultaneous efforts in the areas of data representation, coding, automatic scanning, error correction, data storage, data security, and database design and management. It required a step improvement in optical machine readable representation of data. The social and economic impacts were widely felt - they changed the way logistics of merchandise and inventories were organized and managed, and provided reliable and economic tracking and transfer of goods with significant savings in accounting and storage. Applications ranged from goods billing in supermarket checkout stations to barcode based management of inventories of factories, hospitals, municipalities, transportation fleets, manufacturers, and law enforcement and army units. Selected References: 1. US Patent 2,612,994 Issued 7 october 1952 Classified Apparatus and Method, available on-line: 2. Alan G. Robinson, Sam Stern: Corporate creativity: how innovation and improvement actually happen, Berrett-Koehler Publishers (January 1, 1997) ISBN: 9781576750094, chapter entitled

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

In 1948 there was no mechanism to code data in a way that would make it machine readable and no technology (such as optical devices) that would scan images on-the-move to extract useful information from them. There was no computing infrastructure that would support the data storage and processing requirements. These components needed to be invented or adapted from existing technology for the first time for barcodes to work.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Prior to the invention of barcodes, automated registration of components and goods was largely unavailable. Earlier proposed designs used punch cards and were too complicated and expensive. The common pre-barcode alternative involved tedious manual processes based on tags that were read and recorded by humans.

References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).