Although the origins of inventory management are unclear, it is safe to say that some of the first pioneers of this field were merchants and shop keepers. Inventory management before the Industrial Revolution was very primitive. Shop keepers and merchants had to rely on their hand-written notes and gut feelings to place orders. It was extremely difficult to account for stolen goods because it would take shop keepers hours or even days to hand count all physical inventory to see if anything was missing. To be fair, the scale of operations back then were minuscule when compared to those today, so there was no push to improve efficiency.

Industrial Revolution Era Tracking

The Industrial Revolution completely transformed production processes by increasing efficiency and therefore lowering the cost per item. Lower item costs paired with a higher standard of living led to a boom in the consumer good industry. Inventory is driven by demand and now that more people had disposable income, these was an increase in demand for goods. Mass production and an improved customer experience at the point of sale became the focus of businesses.

1880s – Enter the Machine Readable Punch Card

In 1889, Herman Hollerith invented the first punch card that was readable by machines. It allowed people to record data for a variety of purposes, from census taking to work timesheets, by putting tiny holes in sheets of paper. Harvard University was inspired by Hollerith’s idea in the 1930s and created the first modern check-out system. It used a punch card that corresponded with catalog items and was used to generate billing as well as manage inventory. Customers would fill out the punch cards and a computer would read them, sending the information to the storeroom, which would then bring the item to the customer. A version of this system is still used today for expensive and controlled items such as medication, however, it did not become too popular because of its high costs and slow lead time.

1940s – The Barcode is Born!

The precursor to the modern barcode was created in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was composed of ultraviolet light-sensitive ink and reader. Unfortunately technology had not yet caught up to their idea, making the system too bulky and lacked the computing power needed to be successful. In the 1960s, a group of retailers came together and came up with the modern barcode to track inventory. Lasers allowed for cheaper and faster scanners. The first barcode was born and widely accepted in the late 1960s, the Universal Product Code (UPC). A 10-pack of Juicy Fruit gum was the first item to have its barcode scanned was on June 26, 1974 at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio.

1980s – Software Improves Tracking

Technological advancements in the 1980s and 1990s made inventory tracking even more efficient with the implantation of more advanced computers and software. These systems worked in a cycle, from purchasing to tracking and monitoring inventory, then back again. The price of barcodes and readers dramatically decreased because personal computers were becoming more commonplace. One of the reasons why barcode inventory management was slow to grow, especially with small and medium sized businesses was because businesses had nowhere to store the information they collected. By now inventory tracking by hand was replaced by scanning products and inputting information into computers by hand. In the early 2000s, inventory management software developed even further so businesses no longer needed to input data by hand and barcode readers could instantly update their databases.

2000s – The Introduction of RFID in Barcode Technology

RFID (Radio-frequency identification) technology was first patented in 1970s and has become a staple in warehouses, factories, and retail stores in the 2000s. It uses a microchip to transmit product information, such as serial number, type of product, or manufacturer, to a scanner. Think of it as a more advanced barcode. Scanners are able to read the RFID tag without being in direct sight, which makes it ideal for reaching high shelves in warehouses. It also is able to store more information that the basic barcode.

Every business should have an inventory management system, whether your company is a ten man operation or transnational corporation. Contact Peak Technologies today to schedule a consultation for all of your barcoding and wireless mobility requirements!