Interesting Histories: Histories of Everything Pt. 2 — Cash Register, Wallet, Banknotes

Paul Cathill
Oct 15, 2017 · 3 min read

Cash Register

The first mechanical cash register was invented by James Ritty and John Birch just after the American Civil War. The reason for the invention was simple — to stop James’ employees, as he was a tavern owner, from pocketing loose change. So his version of a cash register would ring a loud bell after a sale was completed, notifying the manager that a transaction took place and there should be some money in the tilt.

James Ritty’s cash register became a success, quickly appearing in any respectable shop or establishment. He patented his invention in 1883, but soon, after his business overgrew his ability to manage it, he sold it to Jacob H. Eckert of Cincinnati, who then swiftly flipped it to John H. Patterson. He in his turn improved on the basic design of the cash register by adding a paper roll to record sale transactions, thus making it harder for cashiers and customers to defraud the business.

Since those times, cash registers went through many iterations. At first an electric motor was added, then a display, then they were digitised, and now they are sophisticated computers connected to a worldwide network. Cha-Ching!


Let’s first decide what we will call a Wallet, as for a very long time there was such a thing as a coin purse. It was used to carry coins, obviously, but also could be used to store tools, snacks and other useful things. It was more similar to nowadays handbag, manpurse or a (dreadful) fanny pack. The wallet, as in a small, flat purse made out of leather to carry currency, was developed around 1600s, when paper money was introduced and spread all around the world. Although people would still carry tons of small trinkets alongside their riches in them, just like they do these days. The wallets became somewhat of a fashion, there were rules on how you should display them, on your belt or in your pocket. People would decorate their wallets with stitching and valuable stones, and parade them around in public. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

In early 1990s, wallets were somewhat standardized by a company called Hermes. They became more practical, made out of sturdy leather of different colour and quality, and quickly filled everybody’s back pockets. As the century dragged on, wallets adapted to ever changing times. In mid 50s slots for credit cards were added, later more materials were introduced, and then more styles of wallets were designed. Now we have small wallets, big wallets, duct tape wallets, chain wallets, security wallets, and any wallets you can think off. Me, personally, I got a costanza wallet.


The history of banknotes, aka paper money, goes back to the country that actually invented paper, China, or more specifically Tang Dynasty during the 7th century. Back then, banknotes were more of receipts of deposit used by merchants instead of heavy bags of gold. By 10th century, paper money begun to replace coins and soon were widely used as currency and officially issued by the centralized government.

The idea of banknotes made its way to Europe through writings of Marco Polo and other travellers around the 13th century. The first banknotes were used in Italy and were issued by, you guessed it right, banks. A “bank note” was a simple slip that allowed its holder to walk into a bank and exchange it for some amount of precious metals, usually gold or silver. Of course, it did not last for long, and soon banks started to give out banknotes that promised bigger repayments that they actually could deliver.

Only in the 19th century did banknotes moved from being paper slips issued by banks to being an official currency printed by a government owned central bank. Soon the monetary system moved away from precious metals, and banknotes became fiat money without intrinsic value. These days, the real value of paper money is hard to understand, and with introduction of global economy that is mostly conducted online it is even more confusion, but having a hundred dollar bill in your wallet is still quite nice.

Interesting Histories

History contains best narratives, best heroes, best villains, best adventures and best romance. At Interesting Histories we try to find those small stories that educate and fascinate us, stories that tell about bygone times and exotic locations. Join us on this world wide romp.

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