Norman Joseph Woodland, the co-creator of the barcode, has died aged 91.
He was a graduate student when he teamed up with classmate Bernard Silver to create the thick-and-thin line system in the 1940s.
Mr Woodland is said to have come up with the Morse code-inspired idea while sitting on a chair surrounded by sand.
He told Smithsonian magazine in 1999: "I poked my four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason - I didn't know - I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines.
"I said: 'Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes'."
The idea was patented in the US 60 years ago and sold to battery storage company Philco for $15,000 (9,300), a figure that today would be worth $130,000 (80,000).
When the patent expired in the 1960s IBM - where Mr Woodland was working - tweaked the design into the one we recognise today.
The first item scanned was a packet of chewing gum in an Ohio supermarket in 1974.
Known as the universal product code (UPC), it is now printed on millions of devices around the world and scanned billions of times every day.
Mr Woodland's family said he died on Sunday at his home in Edgewater, New Jersey.
In 2011 both Mr Woodland and Mr Silver were inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame.