National Cash Registers Company began as the National Manufacturing Company of Dayton, Ohio, which was established to manufacture and sell the first mechanical cash register. The
cash register was the brainstorm of James Ritty, a Dayton saloonkeeper. Ritty was tired of crooked bartenders tapping the till and attached a device to the cashbox to record how much money went in. In 1879 he and his brother patented a machine with a mechanism similar to the one he had seen counting revolutions of transatlantic liners.
Ritty never produced his first machine but he did market a slightly modified version of it calling it "Ritty's Incorruptible Cashier". One of Ritty's customers was John Henry Patterson. John Patterson purchased two of Ritty's cash registers to plug leaks that were draining the profits from his family owned business. In six months the Patterson store was making money again. By 1885 Patterson was so impressed with the "Ritty's Incorruptible Cashier" that he bought controlling interest in the company and renamed it The National Cash Register Company. His brother Frank Jefferson Patterson joined him in the business.
National Cash Register Bill Weight
Ornate National Cash Register Receipt Box
Patterson was an innovative businessman. He and his brother set up an invention department to create bigger, better and more
thief proof cash registers. At NCR training programs were set up for salesmen and repairmen. In addition a comprehensive social welfare program for Patterson's 6,000 factory workers was set up in 1911. By then NCR had sold over one million machines and another million by 1922.
Under patterson's hard driving direction, National Cash Register became a great success. His success also attracted competitors. However, NCR's business strength's put most of them out of business. The Ideal Cash Register Company of Bound Brook, NJ and the Michigan Cash Register Company can sometimes be found. But the vast majority of old machines are NCR and NCR dominates the collecting field just as it did the industry.
Pre-1916 cash registers were made with ornately patterned bronze and brass covers or fine wooden cabinets and are highly prized by collectors. Old and ornate cash registers can cost several thousands dollars and even a small candy store model may bring almost that much if it works perfectly. Many nice old National Cash Registers can be purchased for much less on eBay.
Collectors prize machines for their age, oddity and beauty and look for machines made in the 1890s. One interesting note is that most machines had a marble coin shelf that helped clerks detect counterfeits in the days when most coins were made of silver.
Each National Cash Register has two sets of unique numbers on a metal plate generally found on the front of each machine. One is a model number and the other is a sequential serial number. Until 1908 NCR used model numbers from 0 to 100, mainly to indicate different sizes. Then other numbers were added to indicate series and classes. Machines having serial numbers below 190,000 date in the late 1800s. Serial numbers above 190,000 to 800,000 date from 1900 to 1910 and 800,000 to 1,500,000 date between 1910 and 1916.
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When ever NCR rebuilt a machine it replaced the serial number with a new one, unrelated to the original. Rebuilt machine serial numbers are preceded by an "S" for secondhand, an "R" for rebuilt or "FR" for factory rebuilt. These letters are followed by another letter indicating when the work was done. Letters between A and P indicate the machine was rebuilt before 1916.