Esserian, John
1928 - 2017

Armen John Esserian, Inventor of the First Handheld Barcode Reader, Passes Away

Armen John Esserian of Lincoln, Mass., formerly of Cambridge and Lexington, passed away on March 20 with his loving family by his side. Beloved father of John A. Esserian and his wife Jennifer, Pamela Esserian, Melanie Jandl, and her husband James. Proud and cherished grandfather of John and Robert Esserian, Samantha and Jillian Jandl. Loving brother of Gloria Kapalis, Helen Esserian, and the late Madeleine Koshgarian. Many special nieces, nephews, cousins, and long-time companion the late Marie Burch.

Armen John Esserian was born July 15, 1928 to Arika and Jack in Watertown, Mass. His formative interests included Cartography, Classical Music, Fine Art, and Middle East History. In his Senior Honor’s year at Watertown High, Armen authored La Mer, a compilation of oceanic poetry paired with charming marine-themed sketches. This hard covered treasure of creativity was inspired by Debussy’s symphony, “La Mer”.

Armen was awarded a full ROTC scholarship to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Impeccably timed, his graduating class of 1950 was the final eligible year of acceptance for WWII recruits. Armen’s path to becoming an engineer was afoot. While studying Economics and Engineering, Esserian was also passionate about his aviation training. He often stopped by the family restaurant, Queens Lunch, before commuting by streetcar to classes in Cambridge. When the government no longer needed young servicemen after WWII, Mr. Esserian’s aviation dreams were replaced with another vision.

After his MIT graduation, his career path led to the Star Market Supermarket chain. Amidst the food industry, Armen also known as John, applied his state-of-the-art insights. In 1957 he posted a letter to himself (MIT Library Archives), outlining a vision that would revolutionize the grocery industry forever. This historic letter included a block diagram of a computerized check-out System using a handheld “scanner” and pricing via data codes. In 1960, as president of his new company, “Character Recognition” or CHARECOGN, Inc., John designed a black and white circular SUNBURST to encode data.

Charecogn, Inc. developed cutting-edge technology that created a “scanner” device that read the sunburst codes, which held numerous US Patents. In August 1970, Charecogn, Inc. demonstrated the ease of bar code scanning to the USDA, who originally used this technology in the New England dairy industry. The USDA press release of this 1970 demo stated “CHARECOGN SYSTEMS, INC. is the first firm to develop a working trial model. The event was covered by NBC, ABC, BBC, Wall St. Journal, Wash. Post. John was deluged for demo requests of his invention from Paris to the Pentagon.

In 1999 John attended The Smithsonian Museum of Washington, D.C., where an exhibit detailing the invention of the product identification code and highlighting John’s contributions specifically was unveiled.

Funeral services at Saint James Armenian Church, 465 Mount Auburn Street Watertown on March 24 at 11 a.m. Visiting hours at the Aram Bedrosian Funeral Home, 558 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown on March 23, from 4-8 p.m. Relatives and friends are kindly invited to attend. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Saint James Armenian Church or Armenian Museum of America (65 Main Street, Watertown, Mass. 02472). Interment at Mount Auburn Cemetery.