The Evolution of Cash Registers: From Ringers to Receipts

Do you remember the days when cash registers were the norm? Well, believe it or not, they have been steadily replaced by Point-of-Sale systems and iPads over the years. In fact, most businesses have already made the switch. But here’s the catch: I bet you can still find a cash register at your local cash-only artisanal cocktail bar. Am I right?

Early cash registers were simple mechanical machines, some without even the option of printing receipts. Back then, the cashier had to manually ring up every transaction on the register. When they pressed the total key, the cash drawer would swing open, and a bell would ring, alerting the manager to a sale. Those old machines were nothing more than basic adding machines.

Interestingly, odd pricing, like charging $4.99 instead of a flat $5, originated from the need to provide change. According to Bill Bryson, by charging odd amounts, the cashier had to open the register for the penny change, thus announcing the sale. Clever, isn’t it?

But let’s get back to the evolution of cash registers. After patenting his invention, the original creator, James Ritty, found himself overwhelmed with running two businesses and decided to sell his interests in the cash register business to Jacob H. Eckert, a china and glassware salesman from Cincinnati. Eckert then formed the National Manufacturing Company.

In 1884, Eckert sold the company to John H. Patterson, who saw great potential in the cash register industry. So, he renamed the company the National Cash Register Company and introduced significant improvements to the cash register. One of the notable additions was a paper roll that recorded sales transactions. This not only served as a journal for internal bookkeeping purposes but also as a receipt for external bookkeeping purposes. The receipt had an additional advantage – it enhanced fraud protection.

From simple machines that rang a bell to the introduction of receipts, cash registers have come a long way. Today, we rarely see them in use, replaced by more modern and efficient technology. Still, it’s fascinating to think about the humble beginnings of this essential device that revolutionized the way businesses operated.

So, the next time you come across a vintage cash register, take a moment to appreciate its significance in the history of commerce.