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The evolution of POS equipment.

By Jereme Sanborn on
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In 1883, the first cash register revolutionized the way retailers do business. While often overlooked, this device marked a turning point in how merchants did their work. It mechanized routine tasks such as recording the amount of each sale, providing each customer with a paper receipt, and keeping a record of all purchases that could be easily accessed for bookkeeping purposes. The brainchild of restaurateur James Ritty, the cash register exemplifies the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. He invented it out of an intense need to keep better track of all the funds that were flowing into and out of his struggling business. Interestingly, its mechanics were inspired by a device aboard a ship on which he was traveling that recorded the revolutions of the vessel’s propellers.

His early machines featured two rows of keys across the front that spanned denominations from five cents to one dollar. An internal counter moved every time one of those keys was pressed, tracking daily sales. The customer saw the sales amount on a clock face-like display on which one hand represented the dollars spent and the other the cents. This was only the beginning of the story.

1906: The first electric cash register.

Charles F. Kettering was an inventor who also just happened to be an employee of the National Cash Register Company. He took this device to a whole new level by motorizing it. Thanks in part to this enhancement and to the general usefulness of the cash register, over a million retailers were proudly using them in their stores by 1911. These numbers did nothing but increase over the next few decades.

1972: IBM’s real POS system. 

In 1972 and 1973, IBM upped the cash register ante by introducing devices that were driven by computers. They acted as mainframes that could control up to 129 POS registers. Although these features are common today, this innovation from IBM was the first widespread commercial use of peer-to-peer communications, remote initialization, Local Area Network (LAN) simultaneous backup and client-server technology. Also noteworthy in 1973 was the launch of UPC barcode readers to POS solutions.

1974: Microprocessor controlled cash registers.

Anyone who has ever worked at or owned a restaurant knows the necessity for both speed and efficiency. This was true back in the 1970s as well, and no one knew it better than the upper management at McDonald’s. Therefore, the fast food behemoth eagerly embraced the increased speed, efficiency, and features that the first microprocessor added to their cash registers.

1986: Gene Mosher’s touchscreen POS system.

Deli owner Gene Mosher had long been tinkering with his standard cash register; already in 1979, he switched out his register’s mother board in favor of parts from an Apple computer. In 1986, he finally rolled out his newest tweak that ultimately became the first graphical POS system. Thanks to its rapid and streamlined capabilities, his patrons at the Old Canal Café in Syracuse could order and pay for their lunches at the front door, the order would be printed and fulfilled in the kitchen, and the food would often be waiting for the customer as soon as they sat down. This setup was the first time that a personal computer was used to record sales and communicate orders to a restaurant kitchen. To further revolutionize the technology, Moser enlisted the services of programmer Nick Colley to write the code for the very first touchscreen POS. Its descendants can be seen at virtually every restaurant and retailer in the U.S. today.

1992: The first Windows-based POS system.

Martin Goodwin and Bob Henry took POS solutions to a whole new level in 1992. With every passing day, more and more consumers and business owners were embracing the personal computer and recognizing what a powerful partner it could be in numerous aspects of their professional and personal lives. Martin and Henry, on the cutting edge of this trend, transformed the POS landscape by figuring out how to run their POS software on Microsoft’s IT Retail Windows platform. In the next few years, their Windows-based software became the industry standard.

1993: The introduction of EMV.

For business owners and consumers in the U.S., EMV cards are a relatively recent phenomenon. They did not become fully integrated into American credit card payments until 2015. You might be surprised, however, to learn that EMV “chip card” technology actually dates back to 1993 in Europe.

EMV is named for the credit card issuers that founded it: Europay, Mastercard, and Visa. Other major players in the industry such as Discover, UnionPay, and American Express eventually joined the coalition as well. The first “smart” EMV card came out in 1993, but it was not widely adopted in Europe until a few years later. Europe was particularly suited to early adoption of EMV because the rates for phone line credit card authorization were prohibitively high due to international calling rates. It was only when American card providers, merchants, and consumers started to become increasingly concerned about data breaches and fraud that they were ready to embrace the more secure encrypted and tokenized processing that EMV chip cards made possible.

2007: The introduction of smart devices.

Thanks to Steve Jobs and Apple, 2007 became a banner year when the first iPhone burst onto the consumer market. Books have been written about the seemingly infinite ways this hand-held device and its many incarnations have turned virtually everything we do on its ear. For businesses small and large, mobile technology has transformed the way customers are attracted, wooed, and marketed to. Connectivity with the internet provides shoppers with global access to products and bargains, changing the strategies that physical and e-commerce companies use to sell their products.

In terms of the POS ecosphere, mobile technology has liberated the way customers pay. It is no longer necessary for the POS terminal to be connected to a physical cable now that wireless technology is widely used. As a result, transactions are more streamlined, businesses can run more efficiently with less human error and security can be a top priority.