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Leaders in Innovation

Who Invented the Cash Register?

In late fall, we all know that as the weather gets cooler, the shopping season heats up. Though the checkout lines may be longer, thanks to ever-improving technology, the process of tallying up your items and completing your payment is much speedier now than it has been in the past.

Of course, all that innovation had to start somewhere. Have you ever wondered who created the first cash register?

Read on to learn about brothers James and John Ritty, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees who invented the mechanical cash register.


An Unlikely Source of Inspiration

A steamboat might just be the last place you’d expect to find the inspiration for the original cash register. But it was on an 1878 steamboat trip to Europe that entrepreneur James Ritty became intrigued by a mechanism that counted the revolutions of the ship's propeller.

As he observed this mechanism, Ritty wondered if something like it could be made to record cash transactions at the saloon he owned in Dayton, Ohio. By using a machine to record each sale, he determined it would be possible for both the employer and the customer to check and audit each transaction.


A Proficient Pair of Inventors

Upon his arrival back home in Dayton, James Ritty and his brother John, a skilled mechanic and fellow veteran of the U.S. Army, began working on a design for a cash register.

The brothers worked on several versions, and their third cash register prototype was a success. Patented in 1879, the first mechanical cash register was operated by pressing a key that represented a specific amount of money. There was no cash drawer yet with this early design.

As they continued to improve upon their design, the Ritty brothers opened a small factory in Dayton to begin manufacturing cash registers.

When James Ritty became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of operating both his saloon and cash register businesses, he sold his interest in the cash register company. It was then renamed the National Cash Register Co., later known as NCR.


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