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Bar code made debut here 40 years ago today

NCR’s system, other local companies paved way for retail innovation.

HOW TO GO

What: A special ceremony will take place today at Marsh supermarket (Main Street Market) commemorating the 40-year anniversary of the first UPC scan. A limited supply of free gum will be given to early customers.

When: 10 a.m. today, June 26

Where: 982 N. Market St., Troy, in the Sherwood Centre

More info: (937) 335-6750 or www.marsh.net

HOW TO GO

What: Carillon Historical Park's museum includes an exhibit featuring hundreds of NCR cash registers, including the model that was used in the Marsh store for the first UPC scan. The display include a lot of brass machines, which NCR made before WWI when brass was rationed, and shows the evolution of the cash register over time.

Where: Heritage Center of Dayton Manufacturing & Entrepreneurship at Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton

Hours: Monday to Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Admission: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for children/students (age 3-17). Dayton History members and children under age 3 are free.

When employees at a Troy supermarket joined a pilot project with some of the region’s top companies 40 years ago, little did they know it would forever change the way businesses operate and consumers shop.

Marsh was a test site for new retail checkouts technology. Collaborators included NCR (which developed cash registers and had a scanning research facility near Troy), Hobart Industries (a leader in development of meat/produce weighing scales that produced labels to scan) and Spectra Physics (developer of the scanner ray).

Forty years ago today, Marsh cashier Sharon Buchanan made history when she sold a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum by scanning its bar code. The gum was sold to Marsh employee Clyde Dawson, who died earlier this month. The barcoded package of gum, which cost 67 cents, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Claude Fenstermaker, store manager of the Marsh (Main Street Market) supermarket in Troy, was one of the employees there that day.

“None of us realized how big of a deal this would be,” said Fenstermaker, then an assistant manager who ultimately helped the store transition to a Universal Product Code scanning system. “Where would we be without the UPC? It’s used for everything today.”

Tom O’Boyle, CEO and president of Marsh Supermarkets, said the event launched a technological revolution with global impact.

“We knew that technology like this would significantly improve the customer experience speeding up checkout time, keeping the shelves properly stocked and keep prices competitive because of the efficiencies gained everywhere from the warehouse to the store shelf,” he said.

NCR’s Model 255 cash register included a scanner and a master computer that stored product information. Labels with UPC codes were printed and attached to products. This technology enabled stores to increase accuracy in the checkout process, control inventory and print a detailed receipt with a product description and price, according to Dayton History, which houses the NCR Archives and has hundreds of historic registers on display at its museum.

This product “really brings together a number of technologies that NCR was working on,” said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History. “And then this later would be used as we use it today worldwide and was an amazing contribution to not only how the world conducts business but the perfect example of NCR’s contribution to technology and the world of business, supermarkets and merchandising.”

Today, UPC codes are scanned billions of times daily and are embedded on trillions of products. They are used to create individual consumer profiling through items including loyalty cards. UPC codes also have led to innovation in the area of self-service at kiosks and are used in hospitals, on machine parts and on scanner-enabled smartphones.

Troy will celebrate the anniversary with a ceremony at the store at 10 a.m. today led by O’Boyle and featuring employees who were there that day or helped with the project.

Judy Deeter, president of the Troy Historical Society, said the Marsh store was chosen for its location, its experience with NCR equipment and its operating hours, which allowed time in the evenings to focus on the project without customers in the store. She said this is one of the city’s most significant historical moments and one the Historical Society hopes to share with residents and students.

“This changed the way people shopped, and the fact that it happened here in Troy is amazing and exciting,” said Deeter, who worked at Hobart in 1974.

J.C. Wallace, president of the Troy Area Chamber of Commerce, said the project paved the way for companies to innovate together.

“This is truly an example of how our leading companies came together to find a practical application for that technology,” Wallace said. “We’re continuing to see spinoffs of companies that are working on the next generation of labeling and technologies in this region.”

Fenstermaker said the store gradually shifted from individually pricing, tracking and updating prices with a label maker to using printed labels with UPC codes, with all of those pricing changes and updates stored in a master computer.

Marsh employee Laura Myers, who was 17 at the time working her first job as a cashier at Marsh in 1974, recalls the experience of introducing scanning technology as both exciting and a bit stressful.

“It was really nerve-wracking at the time,” she recalled of the training and efforts to help customers understand how the new technology worked. “I don’t think anyone realized how big a deal it truly was. No one knew we were making history.”