Willard Bundy

Willard Legrand Bundy (1845-1907)
Willard Legrand Bundy (1845-1907)

At the end of the 1880s the American businessman Willard Legrand Bundy (1845-1907), an owner of a jewelry store in Auburn, New York, devised the first electric cash-register in the world. The patent application was filed in September 1889 and the device was patented on 23 December 1890 (US patent No. 443475).

Willard Bundy was a businessman and inventor, who obtained patents on many mechanical devices but was mainly known for the invention in 1888 of a mechanical time clock, an early version of the time recorder (a mechanical device that recorded when workers clocked in and out of work), which was manufactured in a company of Bundy brothers (Willard had a younger brother—Harlow Elisha).

Let’s examine the mode of operation of the electric (in fact, battery-powered) cash register of Willard Bundy, using the patent drawing (see the lower image from US patent Nr. 443475).

Bundy's cash register patent drawing
Bundy’s cash register patent drawing

The object of the invention was to provide electrically actuated cash drawers or registers designed for use in stores by cashiers, combining with it an adding machine to add the amounts each and every time a button or buttons are pressed to make up the sum placed in the drawer, at the same time to indicate and display the amount of each purchase on one or more dials, one dial indicating units, another tens, third hundreds or dollar-units, and so on.

Also to provide means by which two or more dials can be operated to indicate a large amount by actuating two or more buttons in succession; to release the drawer by the making of a circuit; to automatically throw the drawer open; to provide means to prevent the reopening of the drawer after being fully closed or to prevent its being reopened after being partly closed without the drawer is first fully closed and then reopened by the pressure upon a button; to provide a double-figure button operating to open the drawer by making a double contact successively and simultaneously operating the disk of units and the disk of tens; to provide means for registering each and every time the front of the case is opened, whereby access is obtained to the registering-dials; to ascertain the total amount taken in; to provide means by which the amount of each purchase is displayed upon the back of the apparatus to show the customer the registry when the back is toward him, and to actuate all of the several mechanisms by the electrical contact of any of the single or double buttons.

Bundy Adding Machine
Bundy Adding Machine

Willard Bundy (and the companies, associated with him) was also a holder of quite a few other patents in the area of cash registers and calculating machines. In 1891 he obtained a patent for card-printing attachment for cash registers (US patent Nr. 457766). He was also a holder of the following US patents: Nr. 1113099 and Nr. 1117200 for calculating machines; Nr. 617560 for Type Writing and Adding Machine. He had also patents in Austria (AT19424B and AT27631B), Germany (DE194212 and DE197451), France (FR331823 and FR360783), and Great Britain (GB190300409 and GB190516651).

Bundy Adding Machine (see the nearby image) was widely advertised in 1904-1906 (see the article in The Binghamton Press from September 1904) and was put in production by Bundy Mfg. Co. of Binghamton, NY, managed by Harlow E. Bundy. There was a great demand for the product, with steadily increasing sales that quickly exceeded production capacity at the Binghamton facility. An article headlined Brains That Do Not Tire in the national magazine World’s Work stated how this wonderful machine lightens the labor of the office worker, makes for efficiency and accuracy and proves an enormous saver of time, and claims that it is so simple is the operation and so lacking in complication… that a child can manipulate the machine. It simply cannot go wrong.

Biography of Willard Bundy

Willard Legrand Bundy and his Thousand Year Clock
Willard Legrand Bundy and his Thousand Year Clock

Willard Legrand Bundy was born on 8 December 1845, in Otego, New York. He was the first-born of Willard Douglas Bundy (9 Nov. 1815–22 Dec. 1889), and Elizabeth R. Bundy, née Gillespie (29 May 1817–2 April 1894). Willard Legrand had two brothers: J. Leland (Lee) (1847-1910) and Harlow Elisha (1856-1916), and a sister—Prudence Maria (1849-1924).

In 1849 the family moved to Auburn, Cayuga County, New York. In Auburn Willard Douglas Bundy entered the flour and feed business, then he opened a restaurant. About the time the Civil War broke out, he went into the grocery business and ran a grocery for seven years. Then he went into the fish, oyster, and general provision business, and was also interested in building.

After attending school in Auburn, Willard Legrand learned the trade in a jewelry store, and in 1868 he was able to start a business for himself, opening his own jewelry store.

In 1871 Willard Legrand Bundy married Esther Decatur “Etta” Sweet (12 Oct. 1851–10 Sep. 1931), the daughter of Royal and Margaret Sweet from Manlius, Onondaga County, New York. They had two sons: Willard Haywood (1872–1941) and Royal Douglas (1875-1940).

In the 1880s Willard Bundy built a wonderful 3100-piece clock, called Thousand Year Clock (see the nearby photo), to draw and entertain customers at his jewelry store. This clock is now at the Cayuga Museum in Auburn.

Willard Legrand Bundy was a prolific inventor, who obtained patents for many mechanical devices. His first patent from 1880 was for calendar-clock movement (US patent Nr. 225968). He was a holder of many patents for cash registers and calculating machines. However, the invention which made him famous, was his time recorder, a mechanical device that recorded when workers clocked in and out of work.

Bundy Time Clock from 1889
Bundy Time Clock from 1889

Willard Bundy devised his first time-recorder sometime in the mid-1880s. In 1887 he applied for a patent and it was granted in 1888 (US patent Nr. 393205). Next year, encouraged by his business-minded brother, Harlow Elisha, Willard entered into business with him, and on 30 September 1889, they founded the Bundy Manufacturing Recording Company of Binghamton, to manufacture Willard’s Workman’s Time Recorder invention (see one of the early Bundy Time Recorder in the nearby image).

The Bundy Manufacturing Co. begins with just eight employees and 150000 USD capital. The brothers needed investors, so several local businessmen, like Austin Ward Ford (an in-law of Harlow), and George Winthrop Fairchild (a six-term Republican U.S. Representative from New York), put some capital into the new company. Harlow was appointed as a general manager, while Willard served as a superintendent and was responsible for the technical part (patents and improvements to their time-recording clocks).

The Bundy Manufacturing Company was extremely successful and grew into one of the major industries in the Binghamton area, hiring over 140 skilled employees in the late 1890s, and establishing offices in principal cities all over the United States. In 1898 about 9000 Bundy Time Recorders were produced, advertised as solving “vexatious questions of recording employee time”. Harlow established accounts with the United States Post Office and the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. Their time clock created an international revolution in the way that businesses managed their employees.

The Bundy Manufacturing Company's factory on 183-185 Water Street in downtown Binghamton, New York, at the end of 19th century
The Bundy Manufacturing Company’s factory on 183-185 Water Street in downtown Binghamton, New York, at the end of the 19th century

In 1900, Bundy Manufacturing Company merged with several other time recorder companies and became the International Time Recorder Company (ITR). In 1911, the ITR merged with the Tabulating Machine Co. of Hollerith and another company and incorporated in New York State as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, the forerunner of the world-famous IBM (International Business Machines Corporation).

Unfortunately, the tension between the two brothers Bundy began in 1900, when Willard’s elder son—Willard H., was discharged from the company for reasons that are unclear. In 1902, that same son, Willard H. Bundy, was granted a patent for a new time recorder design and incorporated a rival Bundy Time Recorder Company with his younger brother, Royal, and his mother, Esther Sweet.

Shortly thereafter, Harlow discharged Willard Legrand claiming he, and not his son, was the real inventor of the patent and thus violated his contract with the original Bundy company. Willard adamantly denied the allegations, claiming he had done nothing wrong, and, according to a local newspaper, going so far as to continue to go to work and expect to have his pay until his contract with the company expires, even if he has to collect it in the courts.

Willard Legrand Bundy (left) and Harlow Elisha Bundy (right) before the scandalous split in 1902
Willard Legrand Bundy (left) and Harlow Elisha Bundy (right) before the scandalous split in 1902

In 1903, Willard Legrand severed his connection with the initial Bundy company. His whole family moved to Syracuse, N.Y., with their respective families and started the production of the Bundy Time Recording CompanyW. H. Bundy Recording Company, as the name was later changed, seemed to enjoy great success, at least at the beginning. It expanded beyond time recorders, manufacturing, and marketing an automatic calculating machine in 1904.

By 1906, the company perfected its Columbia Calculating Machine and began production. The machine added, subtracted, and multiplied, along with printing words of the figures according to individual requirements. Additionally, the company expanded that year, increasing its capital stock to 500000 USD and establishing branches in other cities. A local newspaper claimed Syracuse produced half the world’s time recorders at that time and recognized W. H. Bundy Recording Company as one of the major manufacturers of the area.

Meanwhile, the original Bundy Manufacturing Company continued to press numerous lawsuits against the new Bundy company. The two brothers and their respective companies engaged in several legal battles from 1903 to 1907 over patent rights regarding Bundy Time Recorders, violations of Willard L. Bundy’s contract with the original company, and the use of the Bundy name to sell Time Recording Clocks. In 1907, W. H. Bundy Recording Company was found guilty of infringing on the patents but continued to operate until 1915, refusing to be taken over by his rival.

Willard Legrand Bundy passed away of pneumonia in his home at 207 McClennan Avenue, Syracuse, N.Y, on 19 Jan. 1907, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. His invention forever impacted the workplace, and the concept of using the machine to clock in and out still exists in businesses all over the world.