This month marks the 60th anniversary of the bar code, which literally originated as a line in the sand. It is also, therefore, a milestone in the colorful history of eschatology, or study of the End Times.
Norman Joseph Woodland was lounging on Miami’s South Beach in 1949, when an answer materialized to a problem he’d been puzzling over since the previous year. He started tapping Morse Code into the sand.
“I just extended the dots and dashes downwards and made narrow lines and wide lines out of them,” Woodland said.
The year before, Woodland had been a graduate student and instructor at Philadelphia’s Drexel Institute of Technology. A classmate, Bernard Silver, had overheard a local supermarket owner complaining to a dean about the problems of automating grocery checkout. The dean offered no solutions, but Silver brought the issue to his friend Woodland.
The pair first tried a system involving ultraviolet ink, but ink’s instability and cost proved prohibitive. Then Woodland quit his job and moved to Florida, where he could think.
That’s what I said when I moved to Florida, too.
“You’re like ultraviolet ink,” my wife said.
Woodland and Silver returned to Drexel and, on October 20, 1949, they filed a patent application for their new invention, which involved shining a light through varying transparencies of concentric circles. The patent was granted on October 7, 1952.
After numerous iterations, this process of interpreting shifts in light as it passed through different media was adopted by railroads and then, after a 1972 test at a Kroger’s supermarket in Cincinnati, became the standard by which billions of products are scanned daily.
But how does Satan fit in? Here is a reading from The Book of Revelation in the New International Version of the Bible:
He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. (Rev. 13:16-17)
Eschatology has been around since the first person thought “Oh you’ll pay when the Rapture comes.”
Various scholars have interpreted the mark of the beast to be universal data identification systems like credit cards with RFID codes, the microchips with which we trace our beloved pets and sharks, and bar codes.
Was the Devil sunning himself, too, on South Beach that day in 1949? One can only speculate, and present those speculations as fact.
So Yes, the Devil was sunning himself on South Beach in 1949. And he was drinking Pepsi.
See also: Barcode Generator