When we talk about the technical process with modern label systems and solutions, it’s easy to forget how primitive the industry was historically and even not that long ago. Looking back, the legacy of labels had humble beginnings.
Back around 6000 BC, the Egyptians and Sumerians used what came to be called a cylinder seal. That evolved just a bit when the Greeks and Romans started hanging small tags on cylinders though often the description of contents were simply scratched onto a container’s surface.
The discovery of the Rosetta Stone was a major milestone. Dating from 196 BC and found in 1799 in the Nile valley, the Rosetta Stone was engraved in Greek, Demotic and hieroglyphics. But it wasn’t until the 15th century that the biggest development that would help breed the modern-day industry actually occurred. That’s when the movable type printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg.
Historians point to the era in 1700 AD as the first time actual labels were used — adhered with glue — and attached to bales of goods. Things took a dramatic step forward toward the end of the 18th century, with the invention of the lithographic printing process, which first enabled the creation and production of wine labels with design.
Glue remained the most prominent method for attaching labels well into the 20th century. It wasn’t until the mid-1930s that the self-adhesive price sticker was introduced to the market. Still, however simplistic the methods look in hindsight, each was key in advancing the industry we rely on today.
The explosion in technology over the last half century has led to nothing short of a revolution in how we identify, label, brand and protect products across the world. But each of these advances — like all that came before — requires human ingenuity.