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To March 2000

When some people learn that I’m a cashier at a grocery store, they ask me if scanners have made my job easier. Hey, I’ve worked there longer than I care to admit, but not that long! The first scanned sale occurred 25 years ago, on June 26, 1974, at 8:01 a.m., in a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. It was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit. Its universal product code was, and still is, 22000 12503. By the mid-’80s, scanners were monitoring sales and inventory in most grocery chains. The beep was so ubiquitous that, by 1992, George Bush’s casually declaring a supermarket scanner “amazing” came to represent how out-of-touch the presidential candidate was. The Smithsonian’s concise exhibit on the UPC sticks to the facts, tracing the code from its inception through its spread around the world, and considers the role of the UPC in 21st-century kitchens—when households start handling their own inventory control. Supposedly, some grocery stores are even testing self-scanning by consumers. On view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, to March 2000, at the National Museum of American History, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark W. Sullivan)