George Laurer, amateur radio operator and inventor of the Bar Code, dies at 94

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Evans, who writes:

George Laurer (K4HZE), the inventor of the Bar Code (that’s on everything you buy) died recently: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50726950

I happened to meet him and fellow IBM ‘pusher’ of the idea (Norman Woodland) when they were visiting Bermuda. Ed Kelly (VP9GE) invited them to give a presentation to the RSB (Radio Society of Bermuda) meeting at the Elbow Beach resort in November 1975.

It turns out they were promoting the idea to local supermarkets because Bermuda was an isolated test subject that would be ideal for a limited roll-out. We couldn’t understand why they would stick a label with bars on it onto every thing and then scan it! It just wasn’t going to take off…. or so we thought!

Well, it never took off in Bermuda. Today ‘Marketplace’ (formerly Piggly Wiggly) still sticks price labels on every item and there is no bar code scanning. It must be one of the last places to do so in the First World!

It’s interesting how they were both hams and that the idea was based on Morse code. It’s a small world.

I had no idea…his legacy will certainly live on. There’s hardly an item on the planet that doesn’t have a barcode these days. Many thanks for sharing this memory with us, Paul.

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4 thoughts on “George Laurer, amateur radio operator and inventor of the Bar Code, dies at 94

  1. DanH

    KarTrak was an ancestor of UPC (Universal Product Code). This barcode was used by several US railroad companies to code freight cars beginning in the early 1960’s. Like UPC, KarTrak made use of bars that were decoded by a laser scanner. The bars were made of reflective and colored tape. Unlike UPC, KarTrak used color coding instead of bars of differing widths. Railroads abandoned KarTrak in the late 1970’s. There was no practical way to keep the reflective barcodes clean from grime and graffiti that collected on US freight cars. https://tedium.co/2017/09/05/kartrak-railroad-barcode-history/

    Morse code was used for telegraphy for some fifty years before it was adapted to radiotelegraphy.

    Reply
  2. Mark

    The ‘humble’ bar code is mentioned in the book ‘Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy’ by Tim Harford, an interesting read of many seemingly mundane things we take for granted, but which have had a huge impact.

    Reply
  3. Michael Black

    In the early days of “Byte” magazine, there were articles about back codes. And somewhere among tge material was a comment about a simikarity to morse code, I guess because the bars were both narrow and wide. The comment provided some insight about barcode decoding, but seeing that this guy was a ham, I wonder if it was deliberate. Maybe the design derived from Morse code to some extent. One would have to dig out the articles and see exactly what was said.

    Michael

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