Supermarket Scanner

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On 26 June 1974, the first installation of supermarket scanners entered service in a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio. This Spectra Physics model A price scanner, is one of those first ten scanners. A package of Wrigley's chewing gum became the first purchase made with scanners that could read the new Uniform Product Code (UPC or barcode). Mounted within the unit a helium-neon laser projected a beam onto a rotating mirror and thence up through a glass plate on the top surface. The light reflected from the code label on the package and was detected by a photo-diode. A computerized cash register matched the signal from the photo-diode with information in a stored database to determine which product was being scanned.
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 coding system they devised had an enormous impact on a wide range of applications, most notably for retail sales and inventory control.
The scanned package of chewing gum remained with Clyde Dawson of Marsh Supermarkets and never came to the Smithsonian. (Thanks to Priscilla Dygert for confirming the recollection of museum staff. See comment below.)
Currently not on view
date made
Spectra-Physics Scanning Systems, Inc.
United States: Ohio
Physical Description
steel (overall material)
glass (window material)
plastic (overall material)
aluminum (overall material)
copper (overall material)
rubber (overall material)
overall: 30 in x 18 in x 12 in; 76.2 cm x 45.72 cm x 30.48 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
serial number
Credit Line
from Spectra Physics Scanning Systems Incorporated
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Work and Industry: Electricity
Cash and Credit Registers
Energy & Power
Data Source
National Museum of American History