In 1879, James and John Ritty patented a device to register transactions mechanically in order to stop pilfering in James’ saloon in Dayton, Ohio. The machine worked but did not sell.
In 1884, the Ritty’s sold the patent to John H Patterson who set up a company, National Cash Register, to improve and market the machine. Patterson’s first machine consisted of a keyboard and a simple adding adding machine with a handle at the side; when the handle was cranked, a cash drawer opened, a bell rang, metal numbers showing the amount of the sale popped up and the amount was added to a tally of the days sales.
By 1897, NCR had 97 different models of cash register, including a five-bank model which was able to keep separate tallies for different departments of sales people.
The first electric register, operated by a button instead of a crank handle, was produced in 1906.
The earliest cash registers were made of wood but, partly to increase their security and partly to make them a focal point of the shop, these were soon superseded by models with a wooden carcase sheathed in “foundry metal”, brass or nickel press-stamped with a profusion of classical detailing such as flowers and arms. In the 1930s, the highly decorated look gave way to a sleek polished veneer finish.
After the First World War, cash registers were made by many other companies but the basic principles remained the same until the advent of electronic cash registers.