Did You Know
August 2010


Did You Know?
by Ken Carr
August 2010

             Back in 2006, I wrote an article about what was thought to be the longest customer name ever to appear on an NCR order form. It was a Greek name 33 letters long. One of our retired friends, Ian Ormerod, of NCR England recently read that article and related to me a story about an English customer with an unusual name. In 1961 a Class 51 was sold to the Village Store in LLANFAIRPWLLGWYNGYLLGOGERYCI, Wales.  The village name literally means, “The church of St. Mary in the hollow of the White Hazel trees.”
            Any of you who worked at NCR Dayton or visited NCR Dayton during your career probably remember that two of the streets on campus were named L and K. Ever wonder why letter designations rather than some common street names?  Well, according to the 1895 Dayton Atlas, the area where the NCR factory was finally built had been previously platted as residential.  Since the Patterson family owned the land, it would lead us to believe that he had plans to sell the property for individual housing.  The Atlas shows both a Key Street and a Locust Street running east and west from Main Street up to the University of Dayton territory; land that at the time was uncharted by the city. The story is told that as early as the late 1800’s, Mr. Patterson was concerned that the junction of the Miami, Mad and Stillwater Rivers would someday flood downtown Dayton (1913 proved him right). So with that thought in mind and factory expansion a must, Mr. Patterson decided to move the factory from downtown Dayton to his property up the hill and to the south of the city. The property was then charted and mapped as a manufacturing complex.  The new maps of the area no longer showed a Key Street or a Locust Street but in their place were a K Street and L Street. The common thought is that the names Key and Locust had been used in other parts of the city and a name change was necessary.  As complex as Mr. Patterson was as a man, he liked to organize and categorize things is a simple manner.  He probably didn’t care about the names of the streets and “L” and “K” would have dispensed with the matter immediately.  Do remember, the Manufacturing Departments were designated “N”, “K”, “L” and so forth.
            With the growth of American businesses in size and number, so too was the growth in the paper documents created by those companies.  Storage was a problem as was the retrieval of specific documents after storage.  In 1961 an NCR scientist came to the rescue.  Working in California, Carl Carlson developed a solution to the problem. He was able to reduce images by a factor of greater than 200 to 1 and then to place those images on film. Born was the Microfiche.  The average film sheet was 4x6 inches and contained 100 typewritten pages. Special magnification readers were developed to retrieve and read the film. To test the limits of the process, NCR was able to reduce the complete Bible on to a film sheet only 2 inches square. I’m sure many of you have your on microfiche of the Bible. I do! The Company distributed thousands of them to promote the process.  With millions and millions of documents preserved and stored in this manner and with an estimated 500 years life expectancy, in spite of the computer, the microfiche is still in use.
            Straight out of Engineering School at Ohio State, Charles Kettering joined the Inventions Department with NCR in 1904.  Before he left NCR to found Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco) and to develop, build and market the first electric starter for the automobile, he developed and patented two major inventions for the Company.  First, he developed an electric motor which allowed a cash register drawer to open automatically instead of having to be cranked open.  The first unit was installed in the Cigar Shop of the Phillips Hotel in Dayton.  The first day, 2800 sales were registered as curious customers purchased cigar products just to see the cash register operate. Kettering’s second major contribution was the first credit system. At the time, when customers wanted to purchase on credit there was no efficient way to verify that the customer had good credit with the store and no good method to approve the sale.  Often the Credit Department was some distance from the sales floor and in bigger stores was usually on a different floor. If the merchant gave credit when he shouldn’t, the store might incur a loss and yet the merchant didn’t want to upset the customer by making them wait too long for approval.  Mr. Kettering’s solution was to modify a standard telephone with a solenoid operated stamping device and to connect the phones by dedicated lines from the sales departments to the Credit Department.  A Salesperson would call the Credit Department, provide customer information and within a few moments receive either verbal refusal or the Credit Department would push a button that would emboss the sales slip showing the credit approved.