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Inventing the Bar Code

This essay is the second in the series Drexel students write about Drexel innovations

Inventing the Bar Code

By Michael Hsiao and Steven Miner

Selecting a University to attend can be a tough and stressful decision, but for me it was easy.  I am attending Drexel University, ranked 86th among all universities of the United States by U.S. News & World Report. This is not just because of the coop program or just the business or engineering schools, I believe that Drexel is among one of the top universities in the world due to their innovation and inventions. Drexel’s innovation has started the day the school was opened and still continues today, its students in school or already out of school have made and continue to make a big impact on the world that we live in today. 145 U.S. patents and patent apps have come from this prestigious university and there are many more to come. Innovation has become something that our university is known for; it’s all around us and sometimes we use things everyday that we had no idea were innovated at Drexel University.

Although there are numerous inventions and innovations that have come out of Drexel, there is one that to me, that stands out above all of the rest, the barcode. U.S. patent number 2,612,994, the barcode is a method of automatic identification and data collection using a series of lines or bars. It was invented by Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver on October 7,1952. Although it was previously patented, Bernard Silver, a Drexel Institute of Technology student is the man behind that barcode we see and use in our everyday lives. I believe that in order for an invention or innovation to be successful and or relevant there first needs to be a problem. The problem that Bernard Silver was faced with was grocery store owners wanted Drexel to research a way to automatically read product information during a checkout. The solution was the barcode, which is why this act of innovations is so important to the world and to Drexel. The barcode was first used in 1966 but did not become commonly used until the UGPIC or the University Grocery Products Identification Code was put in affect in 1970. The barcode is essential in today’s society and is used all over the world for product sales, inventory and many other things, without it things would defiantly be a lot more difficult. Bernard Silver was faced with an issue and with his knowledge from Drexel University he innovated a way to resolve such issue.

The barcode was invented over 75 years ago and you would think that something like that would eventually become obsolete, but not the barcode. The barcode has been in use for over 40 years and there has been no other invention or innovation to top it and takes its place on the top as far as product identification tools. The invention of the barcode is still celebrated every few years by Drexel University to show how not only how big of an innovation it was but how it put Drexel on the map.

This invention is used for not only the identification of product but another more important use would be in the medical field. In the medical field barcodes are one of the most vital things when it comes to properly treating patients. Barcodes are used to mark things like medicine, blood, and even patients. Have you ever been to the hospital for anything well if you did you would have received a wristband and on every wristband there are barcodes which include important information pertaining to you health and other information that can be quickly and easily accessed. With out the barcode doctors would not be able to quickly and effectively treat their patients but with them it make their job a whole lot easier and takes a lot of the human error out of an occupation that requires humans to interact and treat one another. The wristbands also become very important when treating elderly, in my own experience my great grandmother was being treated in the hospital and was not in good enough health to identify herself. There were numerous times when I was in the hospital and the doctor had to scan her wristband to obtain important information about her and specifically her, not any other patient. I cannot imagine if the doctors had to look up patient information every time they rated someone, the job would be a lot more difficult and less affective.

If you were to tell Bernard Silver the affects that his invention would have on all of society he probably would not believe you. The barcode due to being used commonly on everyday products seen like it is very simple and complex but, as you know, it is a lot more than that. The barcode is used in everything from shopping at the grocery store all the way to saving lives in the medical field. The barcode is essentially irreplaceable and is the most important invention to come out of Drexel University.

Bernard Silvers invention not only has direct affect on our society today but it has indirect affect such as sparking new acts of innovation. Scientists are now working on a way to identify animals and other organisms simply by using a single strand of DNA, this is know as genetic bar-coding. Much like the barcode, DNA is a series of lines in the form of strand, each animal has a specific DNA sequence, which allows scientists to identify organism from a single strand of DNA. Bernard’s invention is being looked at and worked off of to create ways to identify things using a simple identification method much like the barcode, which he worked on over 75 years ago.

Drexel University is the home of hundreds of inventions, new things are being innovated and being worked on everyday. 145 U.S. patents have already come from this up and coming university and imp sure there will be many more in years to come. I am very proud to call myself part of such and amazing school and walk the same grounds that people like Bernard Silver, who changed the world have. The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think of Drexel is innovation. We are already known for it and will be known for it forever. It all started with the Barcode.


1.Akeroyd, Alan. "The Barcode Revolution." Journal of the Society of Archivists 31.1 (2010): 51-62. Print.

2.Kathie Applebee. "Barcode Check for Items Dispensed." GP (2008): 45. Print.

3.Chris Cummins. "Don't Count the Barcode Out, Yet."Food Logistics.78 (2005): 37. Print.

4.Carvalho, Gary R., and Filipe O. Costa. "New Insights into Molecular Evolution: Prospects from the Barcode of Life Initiative (BOLI)." Theory in Biosciences 129.2 (2010): 149-57. Print.

5.Charles Ornstein and Rebecca Trounson. "Answer to Scandal: Barcodes in Cadavers: HOME EDITION." Los Angeles Times: A.1. Print. 2005.

6.Our Staff Reporter. "Barcode System can Protect Patients from Human Errors." The Hindu: 1. Print. 2004.

7.HAJIBABAEI, MEHRDAD, et al. "The DNA Barcode Linker." Molecular Ecology Resources 11.1 (2011): 84-8. Print.

8."Bar Code Dataform Scanning and labeling apparatus and method - Google Patent Search." Google. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.

9. "Bar Code History Page." BarCode 1 | Information About Bar Code | UPC. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. <>.

10. "CLASSIFYING APPARATUS AND METHOD - Google Patent Search." Google. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.


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