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This Month in Business History

Patent for the Cash Register Issued

Russell Lee, photographer. Cash register and empty shelves in closed store. Babbitt, Minnesota, "bust" iron mining town. 1937. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Many inventions come from a desire to solve a problem. In the business world, those problems often concern improving the way a business runs. A previous post centered on finding a way to make multiple copies of documents cheaper and faster. This entry celebrates the anniversary of patent number 221,360 External, issued on November 4, 1879, for a machine that was designed to solve the problem of employee theft.

James Jacob Ritty was a saloon keeper in Ohio who was trying to insure employees didn’t pocket the money from customer purchases. While it was quite rudimentary, this invention was the birth of the cash register. Eventually Ritty sold his interest in the company to a group of investors who created the National Manufacturing Company. Their company was then sold to John Henry Patterson and his brother Frank Jefferson Patterson, and they renamed it the National Cash Register Company (NCR). They took Ritty’s original concept and added a paper roll for further security, and eventually added an electric motor. Continued innovations created cash registers that can do things that Mr. Ritty could never have conceived of, which businesses still use today. They are not only used for individual transactions, but are sometimes even tied into inventory systems to enhance efficiency and determine trends.

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