Who Invented the Cash Register?

Portrait of James Ritty
Portrait of James Ritty.

Wikimedia Commons

James Ritty was an inventor who owned several saloons, including one in Dayton, Ohio. In 1878, while traveling on a steamboat trip to Europe, Ritty was fascinated by an apparatus that counted how many times the ship's propeller went around. He began to contemplate whether or not a similar mechanism could be made to record the cash transactions made at his saloons.

Five years later, Ritty and John Birch received a patent for inventing the cash register. Ritty then invented what was nicknamed the "Incorruptible Cashier" or the first working mechanical cash register. His invention also featured that familiar bell sound referred to in advertising as "The Bell Heard Round the World." 

While working as a saloonkeeper, Ritty also opened a small factory in Dayton to manufacture his cash registers. The company did not prosper and by 1881, Ritty became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running two businesses and decided to sell all his interests in the cash register business.

National Cash Register Company

After reading a description of the cash register designed by Ritty and sold by the National Manufacturing Company, John H. Patterson decided to buy both the company and the patent. He renamed the company the National Cash Register Company in 1884. Patterson improved the cash register by adding a paper roll to record sales transactions.

Later on, there were other improvements. Inventor and businessman Charles F. Kettering designed a cash register with an electric motor in 1906 while working at the National Cash Register Company. He later worked at General Motors and invented an electric self-starter (ignition) for a Cadillac.

Today, the NCR Corporation operates as a computer hardware, software and electronics company that makes self-service kiosks, point-of-sale terminals, automated teller machines, processing systems, barcode scanners and business consumables. They also provide IT maintenance support services.

NCR, formerly based in Dayton, Ohio, moved to Atlanta in 2009. The headquarters was located in unincorporated Gwinnett County, Georgia, with several locations throughout the United States and Canada. The company's headquarters is now based in Duluth, Georgia. 

The Remainder of James Ritty's Life

James Ritty opened another saloon called the Pony House in 1882. For his latest saloon, Ritty commissioned wood carvers from Barney and Smith Car Company to turn 5,400 pounds of Honduras mahogany into a bar. The bar was 12 feet tall and 32 feet wide.

The initials JR were put into the middle and the saloon's interior was built so that the left and right sections looked like the interior of a passenger railcar, featuring giant mirrors set back about a foot with curved, hand-tooled leather covered elements at the top and curved bezel mirror-encrusted sections on each side. The Pony House saloon was torn down in 1967, but the bar was saved and today is showcased as the bar at Jay's Seafood in Dayton.

Ritty retired from the saloon business in 1895. He died of heart trouble while at home. He is entombed with his wife Susan and his brother John at Dayton's Woodland Cemetery.

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Bellis, Mary. "Who Invented the Cash Register?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/cash-register-james-ritty-4070920. Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). Who Invented the Cash Register? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/cash-register-james-ritty-4070920 Bellis, Mary. "Who Invented the Cash Register?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/cash-register-james-ritty-4070920 (accessed June 10, 2023).