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James Jacob Ritty, inventor of the first working version of a
mechanical cash register, was born in Dayton, Ohio
in 1837. Ritty was a barkeeper who opened his first saloon in 1871. In 1882 he
opened the Pony House in Dayton, which
quickly became a local "hotspot" for dining, drinking, and gaming. Ritty, who
called himself a "Dealer in Pure Whiskies, Fine Wines, and Cigars," is said to
have attracted a number of famous customers to his saloon, including Buffalo Bill
Cody, prizefighter Jack Dempsey, and bankrobber John Dillinger. The bar was also
very popular with salesmen who traveled by train because the saloon was located
close to the train depot.
One of the biggest problems Ritty had at his bar was that some of his employees were dishonest,
and would take the customersę money and pocket it, rather than despositing the cash that was meant to pay for the
food, drink, and other wares. Ritty got tired of this behavior. In 1878, he came up with an idea for a possible
solution to the problem while on a steamboat trip to Europe.
On the ship, Ritty became intrigued by a mechanism that counted how many times the ship's propeller went around.
He wondered if something like this could be made to record the cash transactions made at the Pony House. As soon
as he got home to Dayton, Ritty and his brother John began working on a design for such a device. Their first
model was inaccurate. It looked like a clock with a keyboard, with hands indicating dollars and cents instead
of hours and minutes. The second was not much better. But the third prototype was a success.
The third design operated by pressing a key that represented a specific amount of money. There was as yet no
cash drawer. Ritty patented the design in 1879 as "Ritty's Incorruptible Cashier." He opened a small factory at
10 South Main Street in Dayton to manufacture cash registers while still operating his saloon. Shortly
thereafter, Ritty became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running two business, so he sold all his
interests in the cash register business to Jacob H. Eckert of Cincinnati, a china and glassware salesman, who
formed the National Manufacturing Company. In 1884, Eckert sold the company to John H. Patterson, who renamed
the company the National Cash Register Company.
Patterson continued to improve on Rittyęs invention, adding paper rolls to record the day's transactions in each
price range. This worked by building a hole puncher into each cash register while the paper would have separate
invisible columns that would stand for cents or dollars. If the paper had two holes punched in the dollars
column, for example, and 50 holes punched in the cent column, the total would be two dollars and fifty cents.
When a transaction was completed, a bell rang on the cash register and the amount was noted on a large dial on
the front of the machine. During each sale, a paper tape was punched with holes so that the merchant could keep
track of sales. At the end of the day, the merchant could add up the holes.
Improvements in the cash register followed from the business Ritty had created.
For example, in 1906, while working at the National Cash Register Company, inventor
Kettering designed a cash register with an electric motor. The National
Cash Register Company became NCR Corp. in 1974,
which was eventually acquired and spun off by AT&T
in the 1990s. Today NCR makes business machines, including cash registers, that
use computer technology and electronics.
Ritty died in 1918. His cash register concept lived on, however, as did his
bar: Rittyęs saloon saw service from 1882 until 1967, even through the Prohibition
years. In those dry years, Ritty's Pony House Saloon became the Pony House Stag
Hotel, and the Pony House Restaurant and Cafe. Later, William H. Eicher of Daytonęs
United Moving & Storage preserved its heritage by photographing, removing, and
storing Rittyęs bar, enabling it to be completely reassembled in Dayton, where
it stands today as an historic local landmark.