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How the bar code was invented by a man who is a resident of the Santa Ynez Valley

Bar codes are used on products worldwide
Caroline Feraday
Bar codes are used on products worldwide

It’s changed the way that business is done around the world.

The familiar beeping sound of bar codes being read at the grocery store check-out is a part of life we take for granted. But, without one Central Coast resident, the way that we buy our groceries, and so much more, could be very different.

Paul McEnroe – who lives in the Santa Ynez Valley, developed the Universal Product Code (UPC), commonly known as the barcode.

"I'm writing a book about it now," McEnroe told KCLU, explaining it would be from an "engineering point of view."

McEnroe was an engineer for IBM, and says that the invention – which has changed the way business is done around the world, came about because the company wanted to grow from making computers – fearing that those didn’t have a future.

"IBM wanted to expand to things adjacent to computers so I went after the national cash register," explained McEnroe of the project which he started in the late 1960s.

Alongside the barcode, McEnroe also created a way to read it, which was also the first commercial application of laser technology, the barcode scanner, and the magnetic code for Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) marking.

He’s quick to point out that no, the invention did not make him billions. Or, even millions.

"I never got a dime from it. IBM owns it and IBM made billions of dollars because they own the patents on the products," he said. He joked that anyone who did own the patent on the barcode would "make Bezos and Gates look like paupers," in comparison.

Now, McEnroe has switched out silicon chips for saddles, and enjoys ranching in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.