When George Laurer goes to the grocery store, he doesn't tell the check-out people that he invented the barcode, but his wife used to point it out. "My husband here's the one who invented that barcode," she'd occasionally say. And the check-out people would look at him like, "you mean there was a time when we didn't have barcodes?" A time without barcodes is hard to imagine now. But it wasn't that long ago, and the story doesn't start with George Laurer. It starts with an engineer named Joseph Woodland.