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Thanks to Deeds' Deed, NCR cashed in on invention

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on July 28, 1990

by Roz Young


            Visitors to the recently opened information age exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution get a little prick of pride when they see an ancient NCR cash register in the turn-of-the-century inventions section.
            Three names associated with the cash register are familiar to Daytonians: James A. Ritty, the inventor, John H. Patterson, the developer and marketer, and Charles F. Kettering.
            Kettering was hired in 1904 in his senior year at Ohio State University to work after graduation as an electrical engineer. When he arrived in Dayton, he reported to Edward A. Deeds, who took Kettering to see how a cash register operates. The register, the 35 total adder, ornate with fine woodcarving across the top, had rows of metal keys on the front. "As you see," Deeds explained, "the force necessary to operate the mechanism is supplied when the operator turns this crank." He punched keys and gave the crank one turn. A bell rang, a $2.98 sale sign appeared in the window on the top and the cash drawer opened. He gave the crank a second turn and a printed receipt appeared. "It requires too much force on the part of the cashier to operate the machine," Deeds continued. "What we want you to do is replace this crank with an electric motor. We simply can't sell this register the way it is."
            Kettering didn't know it then, but other inventors at NCR, including Edward A. Deeds, had already tried to electrify the register and failed.
            In a total adder, Kettering discovered, the values of all the keys pressed were added on a series of adding wheels so that the machine computed the total gross business at the end of the day. Kettering's first job was to attach a solenoid to the transverse bar that completed the operation of the selected wheels and turned the series of adding wheels.
            For power he needed a motor light enough and small enough to fit on a register but powerful enough to drive it without burning out even if it were operated 50 times a minute.
            He procured a one-fifth horsepower series motor that could do the work, but it was almost as big as the cash register itself and weighed even more. He asked Bill Anderson, an engineer in Inventions 3, to work on shrinking the motor without loss of power.
            Designing a clutch to connect the motor to the register was harder than getting the right motor. A nested coil clutch did not work. Next he built a magnetic clutch which picked up power from the motor, whirled the works through one revolution and tripped a disconnecting switch. After a number of weeks' work, he scrapped the clutch because he could not make it release its load promptly. Finally he developed a small overrunning cam-and-roller-type clutch somewhat like a bicycle clutch that worked perfectly. The direct current model was ready for inspection in April after Kettering began work at NCR. Next he started work on a motor for alternating current.
            When the register was complete, it had a motor the size of a man's two fists on the outside of the register housing.
            As soon as the machine was in production, the advertising department took space in magazines. "Come and see NCR's newest product - the cash register that runs itself," the ads said. "The greatest innovation in merchandising since the invention of money."
            Sales the first year were up $1.5 million over any previous year.
            NCR and Kettering had turned a page in Dayton history.