Counting cash with brass – cash register from 1900

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86/4466 Cash register made by The National Cash Register Co, Dayton, Ohio, United States of America, c. 1900

86/4466 Cash register made by The National Cash Register Co, Dayton, Ohio, United States of America, c. 1900

With Christmas over and the sales in full swing, it seemed like a good time to look at this beautiful old cash register.

This cash register was made in about 1900 by the National Cash Register Company, in Dayton, Ohio the first company to manufacture and promote cash registers. This machine is an example of the ‘brass era’ when cash registers were designed to look beautiful as well as register sales. They featured elaborate moulded brass casings and viewing panels so that people could look through to the mechanism inside. Such machines would have been important status symbols and indicated to customers that this was a thriving business.

World War I spelt the end of this type of machine when brass and other metals were appropriated for munitions. After the war, the desire to reduce production costs meant that cash registers took on a more functional appearance.

The cash register was invented in 1879 by James Ritty, a saloonkeeper in Dayton, Ohio. It was based on a mechanism he had seen count the revolutions of an ocean liner’s propeller in its engine room. He called his invention the ‘Incorruptible Cashier’

The National Cash Register Company (NCR) was formed in 1884 by John Patterson who had bought the rights to the ‘Incorruptible Cashier’. He was a grocery store owner who had purchased two machines to address a problem with his staff giving ‘freebies’ to their friends. The machines had an immediate effect and his profits increased dramatically. John Patterson put the machines into production and set up an inventions department to create bigger, better and more thief proof registers. Notable improvements included adding a paper roll to record sales transactions, thus creating the receipt.

The Museum’s cash register was donated by Tooth and Co as part of a major donation. It is currently on display in the What’s in Store Exhibition.

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Side view of cash register showing viewing panel for the mechanism

Reference: Museum of American Heritage ‘Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching! The History of Cash Registers’