Barcodes were originally invented in the 1950s to keep track of railway carriages.
From Wikipedia: An early use of one type of barcode in an industrial context was sponsored by the Association of American Railroads in the late 1960s. Developed by General Telephone and Electronics (GTE) and called KarTrak ACI (Automatic Car Identification), this scheme involved placing colored stripes in various combinations on steel plates which were affixed to the sides of railroad rolling stock. Two plates were used per car, one on each side, with the arrangement of the colored stripes representing things such as ownership, type of equipment, and identification number. The plates were “read” by a trackside scanner located, for instance, at the entrance to a classification yard while the car was moving past. The project was abandoned after about ten years because the system proved unreliable after long-term use in the field.