Distribution Number Bank (DNB) to Uniform Code Council, Inc. (UCC) to Global Standards One (GS1)

Man in warehouse viewing UPC codes

The UPC symbol was announced in April 1973. What became their Board of Governors had been an ad hoc group of retail grocery supply chain  leaders, as well as representatives of eight companies that wanted their ad hoc group to use their proprietary bar codes.

The McKinsey Company (Tom Wilson was their point man) had been hired to the the actual legwork on the project. That legwork dated back to 1967, and it included the eight bar code options. The eight optional symbol artwork was given to a number of package printing companies to supply field printed samples for evaluation.

In the end, the IBM World Product Code (WPC) option was chosen after IBM agreed to put the patents for WPC into the public domain. Along with this, the human readable interpretation of the WPC was moved from the top of the bar code to the bottom where it is today. (The WPC contained 13 characters and how/why that became the 12 digit UPC symbol is another story.) The specification for the UPC symbol was 39 pages long.

DNB was created and charged with issuing the company numbers (Now a GS1 Company Prefix) and collecting the funds from the sale of the numbers. The funds were used to pay McKinsey, their counsel, and other unspecified expenses. DNB’s work was part time for the two employees (John Langan and his secretary) and that work went on for several years. In 1984, he work being done by DNB had become larger and the Board of Governors decided to take the work in house. They did so by hiring an ex-NCR executive (Richard Mindlin and his secretary Sharon) to form UCC which they headquartered in Dayton Ohio.

By the middle of the  1980s, the UPC symbol use was rapidly expanding and UCC became a much larger organization. Staff size increased and the complexity of what was/is managed did a swell. The UPC Shipping Container Symbol was introduced in 1982 and the first bar code on coupons came into existence in 1985. (Mindlin retired and Hal Juckett took his place.) Now there were three different specifications being use, UPC, UPC Shipping Container and UPC Coupon Code.

During all the above, the  use of the 13 digit EAN (European Article Number) symbol had been growing albeit at a much slower pace than in the USA. EAN was HQ in Brussels and served all of western Europe, Australia and Japan.

In 2002 another change happened. UCC, EAN, and other related organizations were combined into GS1 with each country having their own GS1 Member Organization (M)’s). And as of this date in 2020, here are 114 different MO’s operating around the globe.

Other services continue to be added to their toolbox. Electronic Data Interchange, Produce Traceability Initiative, transforming to Global Trade Item vs. UPC, Foodservice Initiative, etc. are just a few of the processes managed by GS1. While GS1 Global is HQ in Brussels, the heavy lifting is coordinated in the G1US office in New Jersey. The current GS1 General Specification is 450 pages.

That is quite a change from the 39 pages in the original UPC specification in 1973.