Alvan Macauley

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.
Andre Gide

James Alvan Macauley (1872-1952)
James Alvan Macauley (1872-1952)

In 1895 the young engineer and lawyer James Alvan Macauley (1872-1952) became a patent attorney for the National Cash Register (NCR) in Dayton, Ohio. In the next 1896, he applied for his first patent for a cash register (US patent No. 587042). The patent, assigned to NCR, was the first of a series of patents of Macauley for adding machines and cash registers (US587042, US589476, US595882, US823474, GB190327874, etc.)

Let’s examine the first cash register of Alvan Macauley, using the patent drawing (see the image below).

The primary object of the invention is to combine with a registering mechanism a series of type-bars and type. It comprises a series of keys representing the letters of the alphabet and a second series of keys representing the digits. Each key of both series is provided with a type-bar and a type, and a carriage bearing a platen is arranged to retain a paper strip in position to receive impressions when the type is actuated by the keys in the manner of the ordinary typewriter. The keys representing the digits are, however, provided with means whereby when desired they are thrown into operative connection with the registering-wheels, by means of which any amount or number printed upon the paper strip by the type may be also added upon the registering, if desired.

First patent of Alvan Macauley
The first patent of Alvan Macauley

To illustrate the use of the device, suppose the operator of the machine to be making out an itemized bill. It is written out just as on a type-writer; but before striking the keys printing the amount the operator moves a dial which throws the digit-keys into operative connection with the registering-wheels, and such amounts, besides being printed on the paper strip, are registered, as already described.

For ordinary use, the device is operated in a manner usual to type-writers. Should, however, it be desired to register an amount—say, for example, five cents—I move the dial-plate till the pointer engages the “cents” notch, which causes the clutch-members to engage, thereby throwing the registering-wheels into operative connection with the key-cams. I then strike the “period” key, which prints that character upon the paper sheet on the platen. I next press the “0” key, which likewise prints that character upon the paper strip but registers nothing, as neither the “period” key nor the “0” key is provided with a key-cam.

Finally, I press the “5” key, which prints that character also on the paper sheet and properly records that amount on the “cents” registering wheel, whereupon the clutch members are automatically disengaged and the counters are thrown out of operative connection with the key-cam in the manner before described. When the dial-plate is turned, the clutch member 56, being loose on the dial-shaft, is not affected, but the clutch member 59, being splined upon the dial-shaft, turns with it, and the wide part of the annular slot 60, being moved to the fixed stud 61, permits the compression-spring 72 to instantly throw the clutch member 59 forward into engagement with the clutch member 56.

The gear 50, being fast upon the dial-shaft and engaging the rack 19, moves the gear 45 into engagement with the proper registering-wheel, as already described. Then when the desired digit-keys are operated the amount is duly recorded upon the registering-wheels, and gear 50 is moved backward step by step toward the normal position. The clutch member 59 simultaneously turns back toward the normal position, and as the stud enters the narrowed portion of the annular groove 60 the clutch members are forced apart and become disengaged when gear 50 reaches the normal position.

Biography of Alvan Macauley

James Alvan Macauley in 1930
James Alvan Macauley in 1930

James Alvan Macauley, (he preferred to be called Alvan, to avoid name confusion with his father), was born on 19 January 1872, in Wheeling, West Virginia, to James Alexander (Addison) Macauley and Rebecca Jane (Mills) Macauley (1849-1906).

James Alexander Macauley was born in Maghrehar, Fermanagh County, Ireland, on 8 November 1840. In his infancy, his parents moved with him to Glasgow, Scotland, but finally joined the throng of liberty-loving home-seekers and emigrated to the “Home of the Free”, and in 1850 landed on its soil. The family settled first in Jefferson County, Ohio, but in 1854 moved to the city of Wheeling, Virginia.

James Alexander received his education in the public schools of Jefferson County, Ohio, and Wheeling, Virginia, to which he has added valuable and useful acquisition by his own “midnight lamp”, all supplemented by a thorough course of law studies, from 1865 to 1868—after he had come home from the war, and was admitted to the Bar in 1868.

In 1861, when his adopted Government called for her citizen soldiery to rise up for the preservation of the Union, James Alexander threw himself into the breach as a volunteer in Company E, First Virginia Volunteer Infantry, of which he was made sergeant. Those were three months’ soldiers. At its expiration, he re-enlisted in Company A, of the same regiment reorganized, and served faithfully until, in the forefront of the hot Port Republic, 9 June 1862, he lost his left arm, and was taken prisoner. As a wounded prisoner, he suffered with his Union comrades at Richmond’s Libby and Belle Isle, when he was paroled, sent home, and was soon after honorably discharged on account of his disability.

James Alexander Macauley was subsequently clerk in the Wheeling post office, then filled a like position in the State Treasurer’s office, and finally was elected State Treasurer for West Virginia (1868-1870). At the expiration of his term, he was made Examiner in the United States Pension Bureau.

In 1865 James Alexander married Rebecca Jane Mills of Wheeling, also of Irish origin from Fermanagh county, and they had a daughter—Anna Macauley-Carter (1866–1947), and James Alvan.

Alvan grew up in a home, where the value of education and hard work was constantly emphasized. In the 1880s the Macauleys moved to Washington D.C. where Alvan was educated in the public school system. He attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and gained an engineering degree, then he earned a law degree at Columbian College (now known as George Washington University) in Washington, D.C.

Alvan and Estelle Macauley
Alvan and Estelle Macauley

Upon graduating in 1895, Alvan Macauley joined the Washington D.C. law firm of Church and Church as a patent attorney, working mainly for one client, the famous National Cash Register Company (NCR) of Dayton, Ohio. Later Macauley became head of inventions at NCR. In 1896 he applied for his first patent for a cash register (assigned to NCR).

On 20 November 1895, Alvan Macauley married Estelle Castleman Littlepage (1873-1976) of Washington, D.C. They had three children: Alvan Macauley Jr. (1896-1982), Edward (1902-1957), and Margaret (1904-1973).

In 1901 Alvan Macauley moved to St. Louis to become the general manager of the American Arithmometer Company of William S. Burroughs. Macauley revitalized the company and by 1905, seeking to expand the operation, he set his eye on a certain alley, but the city was unwilling to give it to him, as his predecessor, who had left the company on angry terms, still had a good deal of political influence in the city and was blocking the move. Macauley responded by traveling to Detroit, Michigan, securing an alley and another real estate there, and returning to St. Louis. At night after business hours, he had the entire factory loaded onto boxcars and shipped to Detroit. In the morning St. Louis woke up, to discover that the company had left town.

Alvan Macauley led American Arithmometer Co. (which would become Burroughs Adding Machine Company in 1905), for five years in Detroit. In 1910 he was hired as general manager of Packard Motor Car Co. of Detroit, and became the vice president in 1913 and president of Packard in 1916. In the 29 years that Alvan Macauley has managed Packard, the company has grown to first place in the fine-car production field. He stepped down as president of Packard in 1939 but stayed on as chairman of the board until 1948. While in Packard, Macauley got a couple of patents for motor vehicles (US1122014 and US2089282).

Charles Lindbergh (right) with Alvan Macauley by the Packard-powered Stinson "Detroiter", August, 1929
Charles Lindbergh (right) with Alvan Macauley by the Packard-powered Stinson “Detroiter”, August 1929

Alvan Macauley stood 178 cm tall (rather tall for his time, a century ago, American men ranked as the third tallest in the world, standing at 171 centimeters!), sported a clean-shaven square jaw, and had a rather friendly visage, given his reputation for being something of a cold fish. He was a man of innumerable private passions and quirks. He disliked people who jingled the change in their pockets or had gold fillings in their teeth. Many are his hobbies. He played golf, was an excellent marksman (particularly when wild ducks are the target), and had a large private collection of firearms. Many of his leisure hours were spent in his woodworking shop, where he made furniture, especially English period pieces. He went to Florida every winter, and to Europe once a year. A sign over his office door proclaimed: “Important If True.”

In 1928 Macauley became President of the Automobile Manufacturers Association. He served in that post until 1945. He was also responsible for many outstanding achievements such as the first diesel engine to lift a plane from the ground, piloted by the famous Charles A. Lindbergh (see the nearby photo).

James Alvan Macauley died on 16 January 1952, in Clearwater, Florida, from an attack of uremic poisoning and pneumonia.