History and Story Behind Inventions: Cash Register

About the story behind the invention of the cash register, history and biography of James J. Ritty.

INVENTION: Cash Register

INVENTOR: James J. Ritty, U.S.

YEAR: 1878

HOW INVENTED: Ritty owned a restaurant in Dayton, O. He felt that he suffered his greatest losses, as did other businessmen, when customers paid their bills. Too often money went from customer to the cashier's pocket. There was no fast, efficient way to record or register incoming money. How to solve the problem? One day, Ritty went on a European vacation. Aboard his transatlantic steamer, he was taken on a tour of the engine room. There he was fascinated by a device that counted the revolutions of the vessel's propeller. In a flash he had the answer to his problem. If a machine could record the turns of a propeller, then certainly there might be a machine to register customers' money paid to a cashier. The moment Ritty landed in Europe, he turned around and went back home. With the help of his brother, he built the machine he had invented in his mind. It consisted of 2 rows of keys to punch out dollars and cents, with an attached dial showing and recording the sum deposited. He named it the "Incorruptible Cashier." It was, in fact, the world's 1st cash register.

Ritty improved his machine, so that it was capable of adding up the entire day's proceeds, and then he marketed it. Sales were slow, and after 2 years he became discouraged and sold his company. Today, a single manufacturer of cash registers in the U.S. sells $300 million worth of machines a year.

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