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Necessity is the Mother of Invention

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Cash register and empty shelves in closed store. Babbitt, Minnesota, “bust” iron mining town. (August 1937)

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. Today’s post celebrates the anniversary of patent number 221,360, issued on November 4, 1879, for a machine that was designed to solve the problem of employee theft.

Photograph of a warehouse space with people working on various machines
Tool room of the National Cash Register Co., Dayton, Ohio. c1904

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.

NCR advertisement with the image of a cash register claiming it Pays for Itself and Benefits Everybody with the benefits to merchants, clerks, cashiers, customers, servants and children
Washington Times (page 15) February 23, 1912

The Library has many photographs of the National Cash Register Company in its collections. Some are of the company’s office at 50 Rockefeller Plaza and others document the conversion of the company plant into a munitions factory during World War II.  The Manuscript Division has the Jefferson Patterson papers, which include financial and legal papers from his father, Frank Jefferson Patterson, and the National Cash Register Company. The Business Reference Section has two microfiche sets that have annual reports for National Cash Register Company  for 1925-1974 and for NRC Corporation from 1976-1982.  To get a really interesting perspective, go to the Library’s Chronicling America project where you can see advertisements from NCR and other manufacturers.

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