Did You Know?
November 2008


Did You Know?
by Ken Carr
November 2008

               
               
DID YOU KNOW…

…nearly all NCR employees are been familiar with the story of the cash register as it relates to NCR and with John Patterson’s genus in bring it to the world.  However, are you aware of the events that led to Mr. Patterson’s involvement?

As with many new ideas, the cash register was the result of one man’s need to find a solution to his own problem. In this case that person was a Dayton restaurant owner by the name of James Ritty.  Ritty recognized that he needed a method to accurately record each sale and therefore determine his daily restaurant receipts.  On a trip to Europe in 1878, Ritty noticed that there was a device on board ship which counted the revolutions of the propeller shaft.  He wondered if something similar could be applied to an accounting mechanism.  Returning to Dayton, Ritty and his brother John began turning his idea into a working accounting device.  With completion of their second model in 1879, they applied for and received a the first patent for a working cash register.  Soon to follow was a third model, widely known as Ritty’s Incorruptible Casher. This is the unit, considered to be the first practical cash register, contained a feature which became common on all future mechanical cash registers: indicators which popped into view registering the sale as keys were depressed. A fourth Ritty model replaced the adding mechanism with a wide paper roll containing columns ranging from one cent to twenty dollars. As a key was pressed a pin punched a hole in the column corresponding to the value of the key. At the end of the day the merchant added up the holes in each column and multiplied by the value of the column to arrive at his daily receipts. Also added to this unit was another feature which became common on all future mechanical cash registers; a bell that rang as the cash drawer opened.

Despite his brilliance as an inventor, Ritty had little success in selling his registers and in 1881 sold the business for $1,000 to a Cincinnati businessman, Jacob Eckert.  When Eckert experienced some financial problems, he reorganized The National Manufacturing Company by retaining controlling interest and selling shares in the company to others who were willing to join him in this new cash register venture.  In 1883, the owner of a coal business in the Dayton area, who had bought a Ritty machine and was so impressed with the results, decided to purchased 25 shares in the National Manufacturing Company and soon becoming secretary and a member of the board.  John H. Patterson’s love affair with the cash register had begun. 

In 1884, having sold the coal business earlier that year, Patterson and his brother Frank, purchased controlling interest in the National Manufacturing Company for $6,500. In late 1884, the brothers began cash register production in a 40 by 80 feet room on the second floor of the Callahan Building in downtown Dayton. Not too much later they changed the name to the National Cash Register Company.  The rest is history; a history which was written in part by all of us as employees of the “Cash”.  

Nearly everyone who worked with NCR since WWII is familiar with the story of the code breaking project and the international notoriety it brought to NCR and its leader, Joe Desch.  But did you know that Mr. Desch was on his way to writing his name in the NCR history book long before the code breaking project. In 1938, along with another NCR engineer, Robert Mumma, Mr. Desch invented a devise they called The Electronic Accumulator. This unit was a giant leap forward in electronic technology.  For the first time, rather than counting numbers mechanically, a machine counted numbers electronically using vacuum tubes; vacuum tubes that were designed, blown and built in Desch’s lab at NCR.  In 1942, a revised accumulator they called The Electronic Calculator, increased the speed, reduced the number of tubes and could perform addition, subtraction and multiplication.  Before the division function could be added, Mr. Desch was asked to take leadership of the code breaking project. It’s safe to say that Desch’s early research which increased the speed with which data could be manipulated helped paved the way for the modern day computers.