Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

George Laurer's invention of the Universal Product Code transformed retail and other industries.Jay Pickthorn/The Associated Press

George Laurer, whose invention of the Universal Product Code at IBM transformed retail and other industries around the world, has died. He was 94.

A funeral was held on Monday for Mr. Laurer, who died on Thursday at his home in Wendell, N.C., a suburb of Raleigh. Sean Bannon with Strickland Funeral Home in Wendell said he had no information on Mr. Laurer’s cause of death.

Mr. Laurer was an electrical engineer with IBM in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park in the early 1970s, when he spearheaded the development of the UPC, or bar code.

The now-ubiquitous marking, composed of unique black bars and a 12-digit number, allowed retailers to identify products and their prices as they are scanned, usually at checkout.

Mr. Laurer said in a 2010 interview that grocery stores in the 1970s were dealing with soaring costs and the labour-intensive requirements of putting price tags on all of their products. The bar code led to fewer pricing errors and allowed retailers to keep better account of their inventory.

Today, such UPCs are on all kinds of products, services and other items for identification.

“To me, it’s just absolutely amazing, because when we were doing this … I never expected it to be anything like this,” Mr. Laurer told WRAL-TV in 2010. He later produced a patent for one of the first hand-held scanners for reading bar codes, according to an obituary provided by the funeral home.

A New York native, Mr. Laurer served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War and graduated from the University of Maryland in 1951, after which he worked for IBM for more than three decades. IBM identified him during the company’s 2011 centennial celebration as a contributor to one of the company’s 100 iconic moments.

Mr. Laurer told WRAL he was still in awe of the invention, which was celebrated on its 25th anniversary at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

“When I watch these clerks zipping the stuff across the scanners and I keep thinking to myself … ‘It can’t work that well,’” he said.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn Slocum Laurer. He leaves four children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe