From Ohio History Central
John H. Patterson Photograph, Courtesy of Montgomery County Historical Society.
John Henry Patterson was born on December 13, 1844, near Dayton, Ohio. He spent his early years attending public schools in Dayton, as well as working in his father's saw and gristmills. During the American Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army but served only one hundred days near the war's conclusion.
Following the Civil War, Patterson enrolled in Dartmouth College, graduating in 1867. He became a collector of tolls on the Miami and Erie Canal that same year, a position that he held until 1870. In 1870, Patterson became involved in the coal industry, serving as manager of the Southern Ohio Coal and Iron Company.
In 1882, Patterson became a partial owner of the National Manufacturing Company in Dayton, Ohio. This company made cash registers. In 1884, Patterson bought out the other investors and formed the National Cash Register Company. The company grew slowly, producing only sixteen thousand registers in its first decade in operation. Through aggressive marketing and advertising, by 1914, the National Cash Register Company was producing 110,000 cash registers per year. Patterson had got the idea for the cash register when he was on a ship looking at an indicator registering the revolution of the ship's propeller. With that idea, he was able to stop the loss of money from not only his business, but to many others.
Patterson was well known for his compassion for his employees. He provided women workers with coffee and soup for lunch. He soon created workers benefits, such as hot meals, rest periods, dining rooms, medical service including doctors, nurses, and volunteer workers/caretakers, health education, and recreational grounds. He also started a kindergarten, community centers, neighborhood clubs, playgrounds, and country clubs. Machine operators sat on actual chairs with backs for support rather than on stools. He provided his workers with indoor bathrooms. Patterson implemented a ventilation system to provide clean air to his workers. He also maintained a doctor's office in his factory to assist injured workers as quickly as possible.
During the great Dayton flood, the NCR was decommissioned in order to created the Citizen Relief Committee; the responsibilities of this group was to house refugees with bedding, medicine and food supplies, and mobilize medical personnel. NCR became a refuge and a bastion of hope for those who didn't have anywhere else to go; after that, Patterson implored citizens of Dayton to not leave as there was much work needed to be done to restore the city, and promised that Dayton was going to thrive and prosper despite the great flood that washed away most of their homes. Following the Dayton flood of 1913, the National Cash Register Company provided approximately one million dollars to assist people in recovering from the disaster. The company allocated an additional 600,000 dollars to study how the community could prevent flooding in the future. In addition to these efforts, Patterson donated money to help build parks and playgrounds. He also donated funds to create the first public kindergarten in Dayton.
John Patterson was seen by many as a great industrial executive, leader, and Dayton's premier citizen. Although he was an aggressive businessman, he had an unbeatable motivation as well as respect for those who shared his work ethic. He explained the necessity of why potential buyers needed a cash register and created a marker for the machine, which revolutionized the retail trade. One of his sayings was "we progress through change."
Patterson married at age 43 and had two children, Frederick Beck and Dorothy Forster, born June 22, 1892 and October 27, 1893, respectively. His wife Katherine died in June of 1894. His son took over operation of NCR in 1922, shortly before Patterson's death, on May 7, 1922.