Photo of Symbol Technologies, Inc.

Symbol Technologies, Inc.

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Hardware

For creating the global market for laser bar code scanning and for technical innovation and practical application of mobile computing and wireless local area network technologies.

The everyday grocery shopper doesn’t stop to think about the importance of all those barcodes in her shopping cart, but without UPC scanning technology, the worldwide economy would look very different than it is today. And if it weren’t for two physicists who founded Symbol Technologies, Inc., in 1973, global commerce might still be in the Dark Ages.

Partners Jerome Swartz and Shelley Harrison started the company in New York when they developed laser print scanning, a method that would decrease errors in barcode scans. The bulk of the company’s business continued to rely upon handheld barcode scanners over the years, with Symbol claiming an estimated 75% of the global market by 1995. The company was also an early vendor for local area networks (LANs), the precursor to the internet, which allowed computers within a specified network to communicate with each other. In 1999, Symbol joined five other companies to break down the LAN barrier and create one standard open communication system: Wi-Fi.

In 2007, Symbol Technologies became a subsidiary of cell phone giant Motorola, Inc.

By Lauren Clason