The story of NCR in Dayton, in one sense, goes all the way back to the very earliest years of its existence as a small village outpost on the Ohio frontier. In 1799, just three years after Dayton was founded, Colonel Robert Patterson of Lexington, Kentucky, a Revolutionary War veteran, surveyed land sites in Dayton, and returned five years later to settle permanently. He built his Rubicon Farm, now the Patterson Homestead Memorial Center at 1815 Brown Street. (The NCR factory complex would eventually be constructed on part of this very farm.) Robert Patterson's son Jefferson, the youngest of 10 children, married Julia Johnston, the daughter of John Johnston of Piqua, Ohio, an influential government Indian agent in early Ohio whose original home is today the centerpiece of the Piqua State Historical Park. John Henry Patterson, the seventh of 11 children born to Jefferson and Julia, was born on December 13, 1844 at Rubicon Farm, and grew up amidst the work and routines of mid-19th century farm life.
For a "virtual tour" of the Patterson Homestead as it would have appeared in the 19th century, click here.
Graduating from Dayton's Central High School in 1862, John Patterson briefly attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, but soon returned home, upon the death of his father, to run the family farm. After briefly serving in the Union army, but seeing no military action, John entered Dartmouth College in 1865 and graduated two years later. A college degree, though, even from a prestigious institution, gave John no particular focus or direction in life, one reason that in later years he was said to have had no special regard for hiring college-trained men. Returning the Dayton, the job he finally took after some indecision as that of toll collector for the Miami and Erie Canal. His annual salary of $800 was reduced by almost half because he had to pay his own office rent and certain other business expenses. He lived and worked in the same small room, and had to be available at all hours of the day or night as the canal boats passed through Dayton.
Early Career in the Coal Business
Searching for ways to augment his income and make better use of his time, John went into the coal and wood delivery business on the side. The business grew steadily and by 1876 he had given up the toll collector job completely. Now taking his brother Frank with him into the coal business, he showed the same kind of drive and determination to succeed that characterized his later ventures. John and Frank Patterson bought their own coal mines near the southeastern Ohio towns of Coalton and Wellston, built their own rail cars, and invested heavily in the building of a new, direct rail line between Dayton and the coal fields. It was the experience of operating a general store and retail coal yard in Coalton that would lead John to the first encounter with the machine with which he would forever be identified.
That machine, of course, was the cash register. It was for the same reasons that Dayton tavernkeeper James Ritty had invented it in 1879 that John Patterson purchased one for himself - to prevent errors, to verify receipts, to stop clerks from pilfering money out of an open cash drawer. But what exactly had Ritty invented and how would Patterson come to dominate its mass production and distribution so completely?