Merchants have been dealing with creating an efficient and accurate system of purchase transactions for hundreds of years and continue to strive to improve equipment to be able to track information, tally orders, and promote business. Cash Registers are not simply for adding up the cost of products any more, they have become computer systems with multiple components that weigh products, print receipts with advertisements on the back, record sales histories, and more. We’ve gotten so familiar with these machines that we tend to take them for granted. However, if you look at the current day POS equipment’s humble beginnings it is difficult not to be impressed by its advancements.
In ancient times the abacus was considered the height of technology; a simple device of slideable wooden beads on tight wire in a bamboo frame. The earliest abaci were beans or stones that were moved along grooves in sand or on a grooved wooden tablet, and later evolved into the abaci that we are familiar with today. These primitive calculators were the forerunners of modern computation and were developed before there was even an accepted written number system, which is believed to have been developed about 1,500 years ago.
The 1600’s seem to have been a particularly inventive period for mathematicians. In the early 1600’s a Scottish mathematician by the name of John Napier developed a form of abaci named, ‘Napier’s Bones” that was used for multiplication, division, and able to find roots. It is considered the first practical calculator; followed by William Gunter developing the logarithmic rule in 1620, which is considered to be the forerunner to the slide rule. In 1623 the first mechanical calculator using a version of “Napier’s Bones” called the “Calculating Clock” was invented by Willhelm Schickard. It was almost 20 years after Schickard’s “Calculating Clock” before another mechanical calculator was invented by Blaise Pascal. Pascal’s invention was a failure and followed by another mechanical calculator failure invented by Gottfried Leibniz in 1673, leaving the “Calculating Clock” as the mechanical calculator of use for nearly 200 years.
It wasn’t until Charles Xavier Thomas’s invention of the “Arithmometer” that the first successful commercial calculator was built. The “Arithmometer” remained in production until 1915. Although the “Arithmometer” was the go to calculator of its day, that did not stop other mathematician’s from working to improve the device. Victor Schilt exhibited the key-driven adding machine in London at the Crystal Palace Exposition in 1851, and then in 1853 the “Scheutz Difference Engine” produced the first printing calculator, followed by W. T. Odner inventing the “Pin-Wheel” calculator that would be the principle used by many calculating machine makers to follow.
Mathematician’s would continue to modify these key-driven adding machines over the next 28 years leading to the first 10-key being invented in 1902. The period from 1900 to 1975 was an especially rapid growth era for the adding machine as inventors and manufacturers developed electrical calculators, shrunk the size of calculators and increased the functions possible to perform on a calculator.
It was these early calculator developments that provided the knowledge needed and aided in the invention and patent of the first cash register in 1883 called the “Incorruptible Cashier”. John H. Patterson bought both the patent and the company for the cash register designed by James Ritty in 1884 after having successfully tried several of these machines in his own stores. The company name was changed to The National Cash Register Company and Patterson pressed on to create more secure, “thief proof”, more reliable cash register machines making The National Cash Register Company the most successful cash register company from the late 1899’s to the early 1900’s.
Although the reason for the invention of the first cash register was to prevent theft, cash registers have become a life blood for businesses to track sales, monitor daily trends, and much more. Throughout the 1900’s the cash register has evolved from an adding device to a total Point of Sale service center, with touchscreens, scales, magnetic strip readers, and a host of other options, all developed around the cash register as a central brain for this complex control center. So, the next time you step up to a POS station, take a moment to reflect on just how far the technology has evolved, and think about where we would be without it.