Barcode Explanation

Bar codes contain a lot of information.
Bar codes contain a lot of information. (Image: barcode_02 image by Perth from

Bar codes may look fairly simple, but each contains information about a product, price and manufacturer. Understanding bar code basics can help you when making purchases or running a retail business. Store owners must understand bar codes to help keep their businesses organized and successful. Bar codes are also known as UPC (Universal Product Code) symbols.


Bar codes are made up of a series of black and white stripes, often with numbers at the top or bottom. Each number from zero to nine has a specific bar width (or set of bar widths) and placement. Placing these bars next to each other forms a bar code that represents the number for a specific product.


Bar codes give three important facts about each product. They note the country of origin, the manufacturer and also the product itself.

Examine the bar code to find a break in the numbers underneath the bars. The first five of those numbers give the manufacturer’s identification number, of which the first three indicate country of origin. If you have two different products from a grocery store that come from the same manufacturer, these five numbers are the same. The remaining numbers underneath the bar code represent the particular product's identification number.

The number to the left of the bars is the number system character. The numbers zero, six and seven are for retail products while the number three is for health and drug products and nine is for books.


A couple of college students came up with the idea of bar codes in 1932. However, it was not until 1966 when Wrigley’s gum became the first product to place a bar code on the packaging. Bar codes became more common on products in the 1970s, and in 1974 retailers started installing bar code scanners.

Who uses barcodes?

Almost every store in the U.S. today uses bar codes, as do most manufacturers of all kinds of products.


Bar codes make work easier for store and factory employees. Computers are set up to scan and read bar codes on site, so any information employees need can be accessed instantly by scanning. When an item's bar code is scanned, employees may be able to see how many of that particular item is in stock and its location within the store. This information is used to track inventory and make reordering merchandise faster and easier.

Shipping companies such as UPS or Fed-Ex can easily track packages because the bar codes on the packages are scanned at each stop as they transfer from one point to another.

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