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The First Bar Code Was Round (2014) (theatlantic.com)
49 points by benbreen 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

Even the article has you click through to the patent to see this round bar code so it "could be scanned from any angle."


Interestingly I think you could still use this design and it would work. Their rationale of less space and less ink makes sense though.

These days retailers use Omni-Directional Scanners which can scan in all kinds of orientation by using spinning mirrors.

I think the original also has the downside that the scanner would have to go across the exact center of the circle to be able to read the code. With a rectangular one, any line from one side to the other will work so you don't have to be so accurate.

I guess this is so the Google overlords can know who reads what patent.

While working at IBM years ago, I participated in some of the suggestion programs that the company provided. Safety related suggestions that were adopted were rewarded with some fixed amount, perhaps it was $500 (I don't remember the exact amount). Suggestions that saved the company money were also rewarded. The reward was something like 10% of the company's first year savings.

Suggestions that saved a couple of dollars on the packaging of PC could, for example, be worth quite a bit. The best suggestion I heard of was made by a co-worker (before I worked at IBM). He was the first to suggest that bar codes be used on IBM's ubiquitous inventory tags. Since everything in the company, like desks, monitors, keyboards, etc. had inventory tags it would have been a huge labor saving suggestion during the annual inventory of everything.

Unfortunately, IBM didn't use the suggestion for a couple of years and according to the program's guidelines my friend wasn't eligible for a financial reward when the idea was actually adopted.

I happened to read recently that the Romans stamped lead pipes with inscriptions so they could track, I guess, if a pipe was authorized or stealing water.


There is an interesting segment of the film "IBM Centennial Film: They Were There - People who changed the way the world works" that talks about the initial UPC process. (The entire video is worth watching, lots of good stories)


Wow, fantastic video, thanks for sharing!

Seeing this video, I can't help but feel a bit sad for how far IBM slipped from its former days of glory :( And not only IBM, but also places like Xerox PARC and Bell Labs. We owe _so much_ of modern life to these places.

And yet, whatever "secret sauce" each had seems to have been lost (at least to them, I don't doubt there are other similar places today, although I don't know them).

I hope/assume there are similar places today. Nothing is forever and every institution has a lifespan.

Though I couldn't tell you where the current ones are.

Part of the sauce was high profits, and patent monopoly or actual monopoly power.

Google and Microsoft are today's high profit equivalent, perhaps with or without the patent monopoly.

Nowadays, barcodes come in a huge variety of shapes. Here's a nice collection:


Similar things have been done with QR codes as well.

There's a very entertaining episode [0] of the "Stuff You Should Know" podcast that talks about the history of barcodes.

[0]: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/105-stuff-you-should-know-269...

I wonder what they would have been called if they had been round? Presumably not ‘barcodes’. The wiki says the bar is the varying thickness strips rather than the collection of them, so the name sort of works if they are circular. However calling round things a bar doesn’t seem right.

Ring codes? They look like tree rings.

This article actually has a picture of the round barcode https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/business/n-joseph-woodlan...

Good article I read on this a while back: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/history-bar-code-1...

why did they not include a picture?

Rumors say that Apple will be using circular QR codes [1]. Has anyone hacked those?

[1] https://constine.substack.com/p/leaked-pics-from-apples-ar-a...

now we have qr-codes, nice lineage

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