I’m currently back home visiting family in Dayton, Ohio and it just so happens to coincide with a famous bit of local food history. Dayton is famous for many innovations – at one point being home to the most number of registered patents than any other city in the country. The Wright Brother’s airplane, the self-starting car ignition, the UPC barcode and scanner, the pop-top soda can, the electric wheelchair and the mood ring can all trace their roots back to Dayton innovators. However, it was on this date in 1879, when brothers James and John Ritty invented the earliest mechanical cash register for their bar in downtown Dayton.
The story goes that bartenders at James Ritty’s Pony House Tavern were skimming money off the bar’s sales. Ritty, understandably aggravated, was returning from a trip to Europe when he noticed a dial on the bridge that counted the revolutions of the ship’s propellers. Intrigued, Ritty returned home to Dayton and proposed the idea for a calculating sales machine to his brother John, a mechanic. After developing a few prototypes that failed, the brothers developed a machine that replaced the numbers on the dial with dollars and cents. Pressing a key on the machine would add that dollar amount to the total day’s sales, displayed on the dial. There was no cash drawer at this point – just the running tally. Example of Ritty’s early design can be found at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. or at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio.
Called “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier,” the brothers opened a small workshop at 10 South Main Street Dayton to manufacture more, but soon found themselves unable to keep up with the demand. They sold the patent to Jacob Eckhert of Cincinnati, a glass and silverware salesman. Eckhert formed the National Manufacturing Company to produce the cash registers, and re-designed the machine to include a cash till and a bell that would ring with each sale. However, by 1884, Eckhert was also in over his head, and he subsequently sold the patent and the company to John H. Patterson, who re-named the company the National Cash Register Corporation (NCR).
To this day, NCR has been a leader in designing and producing cash machines. They added the paper receipt roll, developed the first automated credit system, and later developed the technology that would allow the UPC barcode to become an easier point-of-sale method.
But what of Ritty’s bar? The original building on South Jefferson Street (now the site of a Crowne Plaza Hotel), was originally a school for French and English ladies. The bar itself was commissioned by Ritty from Barney and Smith Car Works in Cincinnati and is made from 5,4000 pounds of Honduran Mahogany and tooled leather.In the late 19th century, at the height of the Pony House’s business (Buffalo Bill Cody, John Dillinger and Jack Dempsey were among the many notable ‘regulars’) beer was a nickel a stein, and a drink would come access to a free lunch spread that included boiled eggs, sardines, blind robins (smoked herring or other freshwater fish fillets), cold meats, pigs feet, pickles, pretzels, crackers and bread.
The bar became a restaurant during prohibition and was open through 1967. When the building was slated for demolition, the famous bar that held the early cash registers was removed and preserved by Bill Eicher of Dayton’s United Moving and Storage. The bar was then purchased and installed a few blocks from its original location, at Jay’s Seafood at 225 East Sixth Street in Dayton’s Historic Oregon District.
After a stop at Carillon Park with my dad George and stepmom Marsha to check out Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier, we popped into Jay’s to check out the old bar. The pictures, I’m afraid, do not do it justice. The long bar has three large mirrors embedded in the beautifully carved mahogany. More intricate tooling can be found in the leather that crowns the bar – made to look like the wood surrounding it. In the top center part of the bar is Ritty’s carved, overlapping initials. Today, the bar uses a slightly more modern cash register system…. 😉
In honor of the occasion, an Old Fashion Cocktail seemed like a fitting drink…