How did the Universal Product Code Symbol Come to Be?

George Laurer, its inventor, will tell you the story!

The Uniform Product Code was an identification number standardized in 1972 by the Grocery Ad Hoc Committee comprised of prominent Grocery Retailers and Manufacturers. The all numeric code was made up of a 5 digit product code assigned by each manufacturer and appended to a 5 digit vendor code obtained from an industry sponsored administrative organization. Originally known as Distribution Number Bank, the administrative organization soon changed its name to Distribution Codes Incorporated, or DCI.

It then fell to technically competent organizations to propose different ways to express that number in some type of symbology which could be more or less automatically read by a grocery checkout system. Five to ten proposals were made which were evaluated by a Symbol Selection Committee working under the umbrella of the Universal Grocery Product Code Council or UGPCC (Ug-Pick) who used Larry Russell from McKinsey as their consultant. On this page hear George Laurer, the principal creator of the IBM proposal, which was the closest to the final one selected, explain how this all happened:

  1. George started with IBM in 1951 See and hear George tell the story (running time 2:07)

  2. There were many interesting and unique projects prior to the U.P.C. (running time 11:51) since he joined IBM in custom systems.

  3. How did George get this assignment and where did the bar concept come from? (running time 7:57)

  4. As with many IBM projects, many people play a part in the project. George recounts who was involved. (running time 3:22)

  5. George share some of the challenges in the effort (running time 3:58)

  6. Everything includes lessons learned. Here is what (running time 2:16) George felt was learned.

  7. If you want to learn more or have comments, contact me