By Melanie Yingst
TROY — Sharon Buchanan was just another cashier hard at work on June 26, 1974, when a group of gentlemen walked over and asked her if she could help them with a project they had been working on in Troy’s Marsh grocery store.
On June 26, 2014, 40 years after the first of billions heard “Boop!” around the world, a crowd gathered in the Troy Marsh supermarket to commemorate the first UPC bar code scan.
Tom O’Boyle, CEO and president of Marsh Supermarkets, gave warm remarks to Buchanan as well as the hundreds of people who made that first UPC scan possible and made history 40 years ago in Troy, Ohio.
“We are really celebrating a historic event,” O’Boyle said. “It’s remarkable if you think how the world has changed over the last 40 years. It really started here.”
On Thursday, Buchanan was the first to admit she had “no clue” that she would be the very first cashier in history to swipe the world’s first Universal Product Code of a 10-pack Wrigley Juicy Fruit gum.
And Buchanan, who still lives in Troy, was the first person to scan the first-ever code, which is now found on billions of products, used in the health care industry and revolutionized every day commerce around the world. According to industry experts, a UPC bar code is scanned 5 billion times a day.
Buchanan said she knew a group was working on a project in the Troy Marsh store for several months. She remembered noticing cameras and equipment being brought in to document what would be the first GPS scanning system in the world at Troy Marsh supermarket on June 26, 1974.
“They just grabbed me and said ‘Come here!’ There were all kinds of people there taking pictures,” Buchanan said. “I had no idea 10, 15, 20 years later that it would be anything.”
“It’s really amazing how one simple scan launched a technology revolution and what it has become is really interesting,” O’Boyle said.
Clyde Dawson, a Marsh Supermarket research and development employee, handed Buchanan the pack of gum to make the first successful swipe in supermarket history. The 10 pack of gum sat on top of Marsh brand water still can be “rung up” for 69 cents at the checkout counter.
Marsh Supermarkets Vice-President of Human Resources Dave Redden said the day’s celebration was for “one of the most innovative and exciting events in Marsh Supermarket history and supermarket history in general.”
Redden said he didn’t think anyone could have imagined 40 years ago that when Sharon Buchanan scanned the pack of gum, “The world would change forever.”
“That one scan developed into an industry that today accounts for 5 billion scans a day,” Redden said. “Marsh has always been on the forefront of innovation and we are pleased to celebrate one of the most significant events in our company’s history.”
Buchanan said it didn’t sink in that she was part of history until the 30th anniversary of the first official UPC bar code scan was such an important part of global commerce’s history.
“We didn’t have the first celebration until 30 years and when they had that one then we got to talking that maybe we did start something,” Buchanan said with a laugh.
Buchanan said an NCR employee brought her a copy of the company’s magazine with a photo and story of the UPC bar code scan system, which cemented her “celebrity status” or at least her name permanently etched into world history.
“One of them brought me one and it had the article in there and I think that’s when it got to all of us that it was important,” she said.
Buchanan said the Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum was selected to be the first item scanned because it was one of the few products that featured the newly developed UPC bar code. Other grocery items had to have the codes entered and then placed on the canned goods and products.
“So that was basically the one item in the store that already had the scan on it, so I think that’s why they grabbed it — why they picked that flavor I don’t know,” Buchanan said.
Several employees who were employed at the time of the first scan in 1974 still work at the store including: Claude Fenstermaker, store manager, Mike Maniaci, meat manager, Jean Gillis, Laura Myers and manager Linda Rozell.
According to the Smithsonian Institute, Spectra Physics and NCR jointly developed the system, and provided the laser scanner and the computerized cash register, respectively. A group called the “Ad Hoc Committee of the Grocery Industry” developed the barcode itself. Organized in 1970 by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., the Ad Hoc Committee consisted of senior executives of leading firms in the grocery industry. The first scanner is located at the Smithsonian in its archives.
HOBART’S HAND IN HISTORIC SCAN
Numerous corporations, including Hobart Corporation, also had a part in the first scan’s history 40 years ago.
According to the Troy Historical Society’s historian Judy Deeter, in 1974, the Hobart Model 3000 automatic weighing, printing and label issuing system was installed at the store along with the NCR equipment. Hobart Corporation was considered a “pioneer” in the field of the UPC retail weighing scanning system. Hobart’s weighing scanning system was the first to allow scanning for non-packaged, variable weight food items. Hobart’s weighing system, which was integrated with the NCR retail equipment, was the first that allowed for meats, fruits and vegetables to be sold using the UPC Code.
Former Hobart Corporation National Service Director Jack Clawson recalls that Hobart Corporation personnel were at the Troy Marsh Supermarket nearly every day working on the UPC scanning project.
Clawson and Charles Fay attended the ceremony on Thursday and shared their memories from helping with the historic first scan in Troy.
Clawson remembers how Fay religiously checked the scanning system on his way to work as he traveled from his home in Christiansburg. Fay said he stopped in the Troy Marsh store every day for two months before the scan went live nearly 40 years ago.
Fay said he began to be involved in developing the first scanning equipment installation around 1971 when corporations tried to determine what “style” of scan would work best for the products.
“One of them was a bull’s eye and they thought it was too complicated and wasn’t accurate like they wanted,” Fay said.
Fay said grocery executives, including CEO Don Marsh, decided the UPC bar code’s series of lines would work best and other grocers followed suit.
Fay said his role was the liaison between the equipment and the engineering process for Hobart Manufacturing’s role in the scanning equipment.
“Hobart was handy, NCR was handy and Don Marsh volunteered to be first. Troy was convenient so if there was problems, we’d be available,” Fay said.
“Our job was really a couple days before the first scan. We had to make sure the equipment was running good and that we got both labels on the package,” Fay said. “It worked so well that everybody wanted one.”
Clawson was a director of service operations for Hobart Corporation (now Hobart Manufacturing/ITW) and was in charge of service training.
Clawson fondly recalls the process of developing the weigh and label computer system for fresh produce such as meat, fruit and vegetables using Hobart scales and other food equipment.
Clawson said he has worked hard to increase the awareness of Hobart’s hand in the the development of the scan equipment of the fresh produce.
“When it came to label items with random weight, every package was different so that’s where Hobart came in,” Clawson said. “For items like meat, such as pork chops, everything weighed different, so you could not just print labels in mass. You had to individual label each one.”
“We’d weigh it, the computer would read it, then it would spit out the label and then we’d slap it on there,” Clawson said. “It was all done automatically like it does today. That really was the key to the whole operation along with the NCR scan, but the story had never been told.”
Both Clawson and Fay provided detailed accounts of their part of history and Hobart’s role in developing the computerized scan for fresh produce at the Troy Historical Society. For more information about the role Hobart Corporation had in the development of the UPC scan system, call the Troy Historical Society at (937) 339-5900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 40th anniversary of the first UPC scan in Troy, Ohio, captured world-wide media attention, including the CBS News and Chicago Tribune.