Cash register – definition and meaning

A cash register, also known as a till in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth nations, is a machine for calculating and registering transactions. The device, which may be mechanical or electronic, typically has a drawer attached underneath for storing cash.

Most cash registers today are connected to a printer that prints out receipts and other record-keeping data. Many current ones can be used by the customers, with no intervention from sales staff.

The first cash register is believed to have been invented by American saloonkeeper and inventor James Ritty (1836-1918) and John Birch shortly after the American Civil War. Ritty owned a saloon in Dayton, Ohio, and wanted to find a way of stopping employees from pilfering his profits.

First Cash RegisterMr. Ritty invented the device to stop his bartenders stealing his profits.

They were inspired by observing how a tool counted the revolutions of the propeller on a steamship, and invented the Ritty Model I in 1879. With the help of John Ritty (James’ brother), the model was patented in 1883 – it was called Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier.

The first cash registers were mechanical devices that did not print out receipts – they were rudimentary adding machines with a bell and a drawer. Employees had to key in every sale on the register, and when to ‘total’ key was pushed, a bell would ring and the drawer would open.

The purpose of the ringing sound was to alert the owner or manager that a sale was taking place.

The birth of NCR

Not long after registering the patent, Mr. Ritty found he could not cope with the massive increase in his workload and sold his interest in the cash register business to Jacob H. Eckert of Cincinnati, who formed the National Manufacturing Company. Mr. Eckert sold the firm to John H. Patterson, who renamed it national the National Cash Register Company (NCR), which today is a large, multinational, hi-tech company with more than 30,000 employees.

Mr. Patterson added a roll of paper to the cash register to record sales transactions.

Inventor Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) designed a cash register with an electric motor in 1906, while working at the National Cash Register Company. Mr. Kettering eventually became the holder of 186 patents, and went on to become head of research at General Motors.

Self service cash registerToday, automatic checkout machines are gradually eliminating the need for cash register operators.

Over the past 130 years, cash registers have changed considerably in how they look, what they can do, and how people use them.

Most supermarket chains in advanced economies and some emerging nations today have self-checkout devices, where customers scan the barcodes, pay by cash or card, and bag their shopping, without any intervention from the staff (a staff member is usually available in case you need help, or to check customer’s ID to make sure they are old enough to buy some products, such as alcoholic drinks).

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a cash register is:

“A machine used in a store, restaurant, etc., that calculates the amount of cash due for a sale and has a drawer for holding money.”

Video – Example of a touch-screen cash register