John H. Patterson, an industrialist who flourished at the turn of the 20th century, changed the way retail businesses handled money—literally. His company manufactured the first commercially successful cash registers, thus helping to solve a widespread problem: the loss of profit due to employee theft and shoddy bookkeeping. In building his company and developing the cash register, Patterson helped to bring business into the modern age.
During his first business venture in Dayton, Ohio, in the early 1880s, Patterson owned and managed a general store. Despite having almost no competition and relatively high margins, the store lost $3,000 ($75,000 in 2019 dollars) in three years.1 Upon investigating, Patterson discovered that his clerks were stealing from the cash drawer. At the time, cash drawers often were left unlocked, and sales receipts were a novel concept.2
Patterson soon learned of a machine invented in Dayton—the cash register—which reduced employee theft by automatically and accurately recording a shop’s sales, which the shop owner could compare to the contents of his cash drawer.3 Patterson bought two cash registers sight unseen. After six months of using them in his general store, he made a $5,000 profit, more than recovering the cost of the machines.4
The inventor of the cash register, however, had failed to make it a commercial success. Patterson, looking for a new business venture, bought the patent rights to the machine. In 1884, he and his brother Frank also bought National Manufacturing, the company that built the cash registers, and Patterson renamed it National Cash Register Company (NCR). . . .John H. Patterson showed the world what so many “greedy industrialists” are made of: an enduring will to remake the world as it could and should be—and on their own terms. Click To Tweet