Monday, August 19, 2013
QUESTION: We’ve been using an old R.C. Allen cash register in our clock and watch repair shop for at least three generations. It still works fine, but I’d like to find out more about it. What can you tell me about my machine?
ANSWER: Yours isn’t the only R.C. Allen cash register to be found in shops across the country. These work horses have tallied many a sales for shop owners
since the company came into existence in 1932. It became one of the leading manufacturers of business machines. And although your model isn’t technically an antique—yours dates from the 1960s—it, nevertheless, stands out as one of the best the company made.
But the story of the cash register didn’t begin with R.C. Allen. It was saloon owner James Ritty who actually invented the cash register in the years following the Civil War as a way of preventing his employees from dipping into his profits. He invented the Ritty Model I in 1879 after seeing a tool that counted the revolutions of the propeller on a steamship. With the help of John Ritty, his brother, he patented it in 1883.
His first cash register was a mechanical device that produced no receipts. Employees had to ring up every transaction on the register. When they pushed the total key, the drawer opened and a bell rang with the familiar “ka-ching” sound that told the manager that a sale had been made. Those early cash registers were nothing more than simple adding machines.
In most cases, a cash register’s drawer, or till, can only be opened only after a sale, or when an owner or manager uses special keys. This reduces the risk of employees stealing from the shop owner by pocketing the money without recording a sale, when a customer doesn’t need a receipt but has to be given change.
Since shop and restaurant workers earned very little, employee theft was a major problem. Some believe that odd pricing came about because by charging odd amounts like 49 or 99 cents, the cashier had to open the till for the penny change and thus announce the sale.
Shortly after receiving his patent, Ritty became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running two businesses, so he sold all of 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 and improved the cash register by adding a paper roll to record sales transactions, thus creating a receipt which the business owner could read to ensure that cashiers charged customers the correct amount for each transaction.
In 1906, inventor Charles F. Kettering, who worked at the National Cash Register Company, designed a cash register with an electric motor. Cash registers also got increasingly heavy, often weighing over 100 pounds, making it difficult for thieves to take the whole machine. The R.C. Allen cash register with its drawer weighs in at about 60 pounds.
Today’s cash registers include a key labeled "NS", which stands for "No Sale," and opens the drawer, printing a receipt stating "No Sale" and recording it in the register log that the register drawer had been opened.
Many of today’s machines also include a barcode scanner that can retrieve the price from a database, calculate deductions for items on sale, calculate the sales tax, calculate differential rates for preferred customers, actualize inventory, time and date stamp the transaction, record the transaction in detail including each item purchased, record the method of payment, keep totals for each product or type of product sold as well as total sales for specified periods, and do other tasks as well. Known as Point of Sale (POS) terminals, they also identify the cashier on the receipt, and carry additional information or sales offers.
The sophisticated machine found in shops, restaurants, supermarkets, department stores, etc. are a far cry from Ritty’s original invention and even more complex than the relatively simple R.C. Allen cash register you asked about.