Supermarket Scanner

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
Object Name
laser scanner
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
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Energy & Power
Cash and Credit Registers
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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When Marsh closed their offices the Historical Alliance in Yorktown received several items. Among them was one of two plaques related to the first item scanned it Troy, Ohio. This plaque holds a 10 pack of Wrigley's gum. The price on it was 69 cents.
My dad was one of the engineers who actually built that scanner at Spectra Physics. He also had a laser he'd built for home demos that I took to school in 6th grade for show and tell. My science teacher didn't believe it was a "real laser". Now I'm a nurse and use laser scanners every single day. We can buy simple laser pointers as keychains. My kids have trouble imagining a world in which lasers were new and rare.
"My Dad, Robert Larck, Drove a local delivery truck for City Transfer & Storage Co. in Troy. Ohio. He Delivered the first scanner systen to the Marsh Store in Troy. I remember him coming home telling us about what it was going to do ... that eventually people would check out thier own items."
What was the price of the scanned wrigleys gum?
A price of $1.39 is printed on the package we have (which is not the actual package that was scanned, by the way).
The original pack of Juicy Fruit Gum was a prized item owned by Clyde Dawson of Marsh Supermarket. It was kept in his top left desk drawer with a note do not open. I worked for him for several years. We were improving the scanning equipment and data base..

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