Patterson and William Burroughs, Electromechanical Information
As 2004 draws
toward a close, we celebrate the birthdays of two pioneers of
electromechanical calculating: John Henry Patterson, who made
the cash register a ubiquitous device, and William Burroughs,
who invented the recording adding machine.
Patterson was born near Dayton, Ohio on 13 December 1844. He
graduated from Dartmouth College in 1867 and returned to Dayton,
where, after trying a couple of other jobs, entered the coal
business with his brother. In 1879, Dayton tavern owner James Ritty invented a cash register. Like Ritty, Patterson suspected
that pilfering by clerks was a serious problem, so he installed
a cash register at his business as well. The machine made a big
difference and convinced Patterson that it could become an
important asset for other businesses.
Patterson bought controlling interest in Ritty’s company. He
renamed it the National Cash Register (NCR) in 1894. And while
he made technical improvements to the cash register, more
important perhaps were his innovations in business practice: he
gave salesmen rigorous training, assigned them exclusive
territories and established sales quotas. Thomas J. Watson, one
of Patterson’s salesmen, carried these business practices with
him to the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, which he
turned into the information processing giant, IBM.
supported technological innovation. For example, Charles
Kettering’s motor development led to the electrification of the
cash register. The motor needed to deliver high torque in short
spurts, and it had to have a clutch mechanism to engage and
disengage the counting wheels at precisely the right moment.
(Shortly afterward, Kettering took advantage of this work and
designed a motor for an automobile self-starter, which was
introduced in the 1912 Cadillac.) When Patterson died in 1922,
NCR dominated the cash register market worldwide and employed
10,000 people in its Dayton offices and factories.
inventor-entrepreneur was William Seward Burroughs, born 28
January 1855 in Auburn, New York. Having to support himself
beginning at age 15, Burroughs worked at various jobs while
working on his own inventions. As a bank clerk, he saw the need
for calculating aids and developed a mechanical adding machine. What distinguished Burroughs’ machine from other adding machines
— such as that developed at about the same time by Dorr E. Felt
— was that it printed the numbers added and the total.
Burroughs formed the American Arithmometer Company. His first
machines proved impractical, but in 1892, he completed an
improved model and the company finally achieved success. In
fact, it was growing rapidly at the time of Burroughs’ death on
15 September 1898.
In 1905, American
Arithmometer Company was renamed the Burroughs Adding Machine
Company. It expanded its product line, and by 1908 offered 58
different machines. As with the cash register, electrification
of the machines increased their speed, functionality and ease of
use. Burroughs Adding Machine Company, later Burroughs
Corporation, became one of the leading suppliers of office