The first product scanned with a barcode was Juicy Fruit gum.
Source: Original photo by Delmaine Donson/ iStock
Next Fact

The first product scanned with a barcode was Juicy Fruit gum.

When Marsh Supermarket cashier Sharon Buchanan rang up a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit on June 26, 1974, and heard a telltale beep, her face must have registered relief. Buchanan’s co-workers at the grocery store in Troy, Ohio, had placed barcodes on hundreds of items the night before, as the National Cash Register Company installed the shop’s new computers and scanners. Buchanan’s “customer” for that first purchase was Clyde Dawson, the head of research and development at Marsh Supermarkets, Inc. For that fateful checkout, Dawson chose the gum, made by the Wrigley Company, because some had wondered if the machine would have trouble reading the item’s very small barcode. It didn’t. Today, one of Marsh’s earliest scanners is part of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Retired New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams helped set a gum-related world record.
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It's a Fact
To raise awareness for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, Williams hosted the largest meetup of people blowing a chewing gum bubble simultaneously. All 881 participants held their bubbles for at least 30 seconds. The 2018 event took place at a Minor League Baseball park in New Jersey.

The origins of the barcode, meanwhile, date back to January 1949. That’s when a young mechanical engineer, N. Joseph Woodland, came up with the idea for the tool while drawing in the Miami Beach sand. Bernard “Bob” Silver — a postgraduate student at Woodland’s alma mater, Drexel Institute of Technology — had told Woodland about a supermarket manager who approached the school, desperate for a way to check out shoppers at a faster pace. The duo collaborated on a patent for a bullseye-shaped barcode, which was approved in 1952. Yet they couldn’t come up with a practical device for reading the information it held — the laser wasn’t invented until 1958, and initial versions of the scanner were huge and cumbersome — so they sold their patent for $15,000. Woodland later moved to IBM, and in 1973, his colleague George Laurer succeeded in perfecting the scannable barcode, in part by finally putting a printer-friendly, rectangular model into production. Today, more than 5 billion barcodes are scanned daily, and some of them are still Juicy Fruit gum.

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Numbers Don’t Lie
Estimated number of Americans who chewed gum in 2020
160 million
World’s largest collection of chewing gum packets (collected by Grzegorz Materna of Warsaw, Poland)
Length, in feet, of the longest gum wrapper chain, which a Virginia teacher began making in 1965
Estimated pieces of discarded gum lining the walls of Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California
2 million
On electronic boarding passes, airlines use _______ codes, named after the famous Mesoamerican civilization.
On electronic boarding passes, airlines use Aztec codes, named after the famous Mesoamerican civilization.
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Think Twice
Selling chewing gum is mostly banned in Singapore.

The lasting influence of the island’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew (in office 1959–1990), led to this quirky law — which has managed to stick for 29 years. Early in his tenure, when Singapore separated from Malaysia to become sovereign, Lee dreamed of making his young city-state a scenic travel locale. Thus he launched his “Keep Singapore Clean” initiative in 1968, which included strict anti-littering regulations. Spitting, feeding pigeons, or neglecting to flush a public toilet can also result in fines, and since 1992, stocking or importing gum can set a business back up to $100,000 and translate to prison time. Visitors to Singapore are allowed to bring small amounts of gum into the country for their personal use, however. And thanks to 2004’s U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, pharmacists (and pharmacists alone) are able to sell “medicinal” and “dental” gum products, such as Nicorette (and, somehow, sugar-free gum), to customers who submit their names and ID card numbers. Still, all chewed gum should be tossed in a trash can. 

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