The tale of the barcode's invention begins in 1948, on a beach in Miami. Its inventor, Joseph Woodland, was thinking of Morse code and tracing circles in the sand at the time, reports 99% invisible. But Woodland's patent didn't make much of a splash until 1973, when a group of supermarket executives decided they needed a way to scan items at checkouts more quickly.
The executives approached 14 companies to come up with a solution. And as it turns out, it was an IBM employee named George Laurer who came up with the final design. Read the story in full on 99% invisible — and listen to the accompanying podcast — to find out what grocery item was the first to sport a barcode, and how it went from resembling a bulls-eye to looking like the familiar rectangle that some tattoo on themselves today.