Cha-Ching: The Bell Heard Around the World


This past week, while working on a scene set in a general store, I got to wondering when cash registers might have been found in the Old West. I was surprised to discover that the cash register (called a Cashier at the time) was invented in 1879 by a saloon owner.

James Ritty (public domain)

James Jacob Ritty, owner of the popular Pony House Saloon in Dayton, Ohio, knew something was wrong.  Buffalo Bill and John Dillinger were among his many customers and business was booming.  Still he saw no profit.  He was suspicious that his bartenders were dipping into the till but couldn’t prove it.

The problem was very much on his mind during a sailing trip to Europe. While studying the ship’s mechanics, particularly the counting mechanism that recorded the propeller’s revolutions, he got an idea; why not invent a device that would record a shop’s sales? 

Upon returning to the states, he ran his idea by his brother, John, and after a couple of false starts, the two patented what became known as Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier. 

Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier 1879. public domain

The machine had a clock-like feature that rang up sales, but no cash drawer.  During each sale, a paper tape was punched with holes so that the merchant could keep track of sales. At the end of the day, the merchant could add up the holes.  This was no easy task. Even though the machine was designed to record daily sales no greater than $12.99, the tally could be as long as twenty feet.

Their invention worked and Ritty’s profits rose, but it wasn’t fool proof. Without a cash drawer, money still turned up in the wrong pockets.

The brothers later added a cash drawer and the Cha-Ching sound that shop owners love to hear.  (It’s thought that merchants came up with odd prices like forty-nine or ninety-nine cents, so cashiers would have to open the till to make change. This helped insure that all sales were recorded.)

The brothers opened a factory above the saloon. Running two businesses soon proved too much for James, and he sold his cashier business to a group of investors.  Eventually, the company sold to John H. Patterson who renamed it the National Cash Register Corporation.

The Thief Catcher

By the 1880s, cash registers could be found in retail shops across the country.  Though the new and improved registers aided bookkeeping and inventory chores, they were resented by clerks.  It’s easy to understand why; the machines were called “thief catchers.”  Honest clerks resented the implication and dishonest clerks missed the extra income.   

But then, as now, enterprising thieves always found a way. 

Speaking of thieves, do you always ask for receipts, even at fast food outlets?  If not, you should. Dishonest clerks can do a lot with unclaimed receipts–and none of it good!


The only thing threatening their success is love!


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27 thoughts on “Cha-Ching: The Bell Heard Around the World”

  1. Wow! I get another great history lesson. Thank you. Love the “thief catcher”. Now the cash registers tell the cashier how much change to give back. Seems our education system cannot teach simple math and how to count change back.

  2. I loved this blog article. I have an old cash register from the 1880’s, only the bottom part that’s made of oak. I use it all the for important documents. Great history lesson. Your book sounds amazing. I’ve only read one of your books, but LOVED it, I need to get started on your library of books. I’ve read all of Linfa Broday’s and close to half of Shanna Hatfield’s, now I need to start on your great books. The P & P blog has given me great authors to read. Thanks for the receipt tip. I don’t always get mine at fast food places, but will from now on.
    Have an amazing Holiday weekend.

    • Tonya, thank you so much.

      Here’s another tip: I just read that asking for a receipt at McDonalds will get you the freshest food. Why? Because among the only customers asking for receipts at fast food places are secret shoppers.

  3. Margaret thanks for a wonderful history lesson. Yes I always ask for a receipt even get one when I pump the gas. Just the other day I was charged twice for an order at a fast food restaurant and thankfully I had my ticket to insure I got the extra charge removed

  4. Another great history lesson. Very interesting. It’s amazing the few times I’ve watched a cashier look at the register to see what change I get and still have a look on their face as if they don’t know which bills to use. Sad. Yes I do ask for a receipt.

    • Carol, good for you for asking for receipts. Our high schools and colleges need to drop some of the “basket weaving” courses and add classes in money and money management.

  5. Margaret, this is fascinating! Good research. I save receipts from everything because You Never Know.
    Kathy Bailey

  6. This is interesting. There aren’t many places that we go that we aren’t offered a receipt. I always want them especially if it’s a debit or credit transaction.

  7. A very interesting bit of history! Thanks for sharing. Having been responsible for counting down cash registers for many years, I was very glad to have that long piece of paper adding up correctly at the end of the day.

  8. As always, another little history lesson that I loved, especially learning that the 99 cents prices we all roll our eyes at may have started to combat theft. And, yes, I always ask for a receipt. Helps me keep track as well as taking that little bit of “evidence” away from possible not-so-honest cashiers. Thanks for a fun post.

  9. I always request a receipt. I used to reconcile the receipts with the bill every month, but that was before life got so crazy and we used our credit cards as much as we do. We pay them of each month, but the convenience and the cash back make it preferable to use them. I have also wondered how in restaurants they can bring you a receipt to sign and leave it open ended to add a tip without taking your card and rerunning it.
    Thank you for an interesting post and pictures. The early machines are interesting. An honest person shouldn’t resent using one to record their transactions. Of course today, sadly if there weren’t cash registers that figure the change most clerks wouldn’t be able to figure it out on their own. We have given the exact change so we get only bills back when paying. Almost every time, if the clerk has rung up the sale based on whole dollars, they cannot figure out the correct change. We had one call over the manager and he couldn’t figure it out either. It is a sad reflection of the educational system and how lazy we have become. Our children have had the same experience and had to explain it to the clerks and manager. How hard can it be to figure: a bill of $8.59 – pay with a $10 bill and $.59 cents in change. If the manager can’t figure that out, he (or she) shouldn’t have the job.

    • Hi Patricia, the open-ended receipt in restaurants has caused me trouble in the past. One Mother’s Day, my husband took the family out for brunch. Since there were twelve of us, the bill came to a couple hundred dollars. Two days later, I noticed an additional hundred dollars had been added to the bill. The restaurant reimbursed us, but it gave me a funny feeling and we never went back.

  10. Margaret – Thanks, for the interesting blog. Enjoy all your books.
    Yes, I always ask for receipts from everywhere, especially fast food places. If you get food poisoning (like I did) you need to prove that you ate there. It happens that what I ate there was what made me ill. Word to the wise!!!

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