Frederick Fuller

Frederick Lincoln Fuller (1861-1943)
Frederick Lincoln Fuller (1861-1943)

In the spring of 1888 the young inventor and self-taught engineer Frederick Fuller of Waterbury, Connecticut, saw a model of cash register while working in the shop of the Specialty Manufacturing Co., a firm engaged in special brass work, models of inventions, clock movements, etc., owned by the Griswold family. Fuller was assigned to work on parts of the model, ordered by another inventor, and came to the conclusion, that there were many ways in which a better cash register could be made, and one day he made bold to say as much to the owner, Mr. George G. Griswold (1817-1891). “Do you think you can make a better one?”, asked Mr. Griswold. “I don’t think I can. I know I can.”, answered self-confidently Fuller.

Griswold was impressed and decided to put Fuller to work on his ideas and also assigned his son George H. Griswold (1855-1942) to work with him. This was a great break for both young men, they became fast friends and went at their new task with so much enthusiasm that in less than a year they had perfected a machine and applied for patents on a device, that was destined to play an important part in cash register history.

Fuller and Griswold applied for the patent on 4 April 1889, and it was granted on 4 February 1890 (US patent No. 420554). Several months after filing their original application, they discovered a method of indicating cash amounts that they believed would result in a better machine. Accordingly, they filed a second application and obtained another patent (US patent No. 420555).

The inventors succeeded in interesting a number of Waterbury men who took stock in a company to make and market their cash register. This was the first Union Cash Register Company. They started out in a most modest manner. Lacking money for tools for extensive production, they made all machines by hand. By the time they had made and sold about 75 registers, they ran out of capital and credit. To raise more money they moved to the city of Trenton, N. J.

George Griswold entered the sales department, while Fuller kept on as the superintendent of the plant. The basic difference between the Union cash register and the others on the market at that time was that the Union machine was deliberately designed for use in general lines of retail business, whereas the others were made for and sold to saloons. The Union was a success from the start. Even in Waterbury, while they were turning out their first handful of machines, they were becoming known.

The patent drawing of US patent No. 420554 of Frederick Fuller and George Griswold
The patent drawing of US patent No. 420554 of Fuller and Griswold

In 1892 Union Cash Register was awarded the John Scott Medal of the Franklin Institute, which had an asset of great advertising value. Let’s examine the cash register of Fuller and Griswold, using the patent drawing (see the nearby image).

The objects of the invention are:
1. To provide a machine that shall temporarily indicate the amount of each sale, so that the customer may see the same as it appears upon the face of the machine, and which shall, in addition to the temporary indication thus made, transfer the amount of said sale by a process of addition to a permanent totalizing-register, which may be inaccessible to the salesman, and which will at all times show the sum-total of sales to any person having access to the interior of the case without any calculation upon the part of the observer.
2. To provide a machine in which any of the several parts of the permanent registering mechanism may be operated forward, but in which none of the said parts is capable of any retrograde movement.
3. To provide a mechanism whereby upon the opening of the cash drawer the indicating mechanism will return to its normal position and the said indication be effaced.
4. To provide means for locking the next higher segment as against simultaneous operation with the one below it.
5. To provide a construction that shall be cheap and simple in all its parts, certain in its action, and positive in operation as far as may be.

In the operation of the machine organized as above described the operator places his fingers upon the appropriate handle of the proper segment and depresses said segment until the fingers come in contact with the table. This causes the amount corresponding to the handle selected to appear upon the indicating wheel, which shows through the appropriate opening in the case. It also causes the same amount to be added to the totalizing register, and the segment is retained in the position to which it has been carried by the engagement with the sector-teeth thereon of the spring-actuated clicks. Of course in registering uneven amounts the depression of more than one segment is required-say for $3.47 the units segment is pressed downward from seven, the tens from four, and the hundreds from three, which may be done freely so long as it is not sought to depress them simultaneously. Even amounts are indicated and registered by means of one segment only. For instance, for eight cents, the units segment is depressed from eight; for eighty cents, the tens segment from eight; for eight dollars, the hundreds segment from eight, etc. When the drawer is opened, the cam-slots therein, by moving the rod which operates the clicks, causes these latter to be disengaged from the segments, which, carrying with them the indicating wheels, return to their normal positions.

The patent drawing of US patent No. 585468 of Frederick Fuller
The patent drawing of US patent No. 585468 of Frederick Fuller

While the indicating wheels are always at zero, except at such times as they are depressed and so retained by the clicks, the totalizing register has added to it at each operation of the segments, or any of them, the amount thereby caused to appear upon the indicating wheel or wheels. The person having access to the interior of the case may therefore obtain the full amount of sales at any time by reading as a total the figures on the totalizing-register wheels which are in the line for totals, which line may be indicated by marks upon the sides of the ease or in any other desired manner.

When at any time it is desired to turn the totalizing register to zero for commencing a new account upon the machine, it is only necessary to turn each totalizing-register wheel, beginning with units, by means of its segment, until it stands at zero.

In order to make available to more users the principles behind his first cash register, Fuller devoted his next research to a simple cash register that could be sold at a lower price, while retaining many of the unique and excellent features of the original machine. The result was a machine with a clearly legible customer reading chart, simple in design and operation (see the nearby image), patented in 1897 (No. 585468). In the same 1897, Fuller invented another improvement to the cash register which was described in the patent application No. 585565.

The Union cash register of Frederick Fuller and George Griswold, a model from 1900
The Union cash register of Frederick Fuller and George Griswold, a model from 1900

In the 1890s the Union kept steadily at the job of improving the register. Fuller perfected and patented a printing mechanism, and also a device that would give a printed receipt to the customer. Union however was continually at a disadvantage because their financial setup was never as good as the register they made. They had several reorganizations, and the company remained solvent, but there never was enough money to do things in a big way. By 1907 they had thousands of cash registers in service, and by this time they had attracted the attention of the great National Cash Register Co. of Dayton, Ohio. National acquired the Union company and incorporated many of the features of the Union Cash Register into its own product.

Biography of Frederick Fuller

Frederick Lincoln Fuller was born on 11 April 1861, in Norwich, Connecticut. He was the first son of Charles Chester Fuller (14 Sep 1832-15 Oct 1880), a mill owner, and Lucy May (Stead) Fuller (1 Nov 1834-1 May 1922). Frederick had an older sister—Mary L. (1857-1911), and a younger brother—Charles Owen (24 Dec 1867-31 Oct 1957).

Fuller family were heirs of the early settler John Fuller, born on 19 May 1617, in Chelmsford, England. John emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony in July 1635, together with his elder brother William. He worked as commissioner, farmer, and maltster, and died on 4 June 1666, in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Frederick inherited the love of machinery from his grandfather Owen Stead (1804-1896), who was engaged in broom manufacture. He was only ten years old when he mastered the trick of making simple turnings on a small wood lathe.

Fred was nearly through high school when his father lost his mill during the Great Depression of the 1870s. The severity of this unexpected business calamity broke his health, and he died at the age of 48, after several years of illness. Fred was only 14 years old when his father’s breakdown threw the family with unbelievable abruptness into an entirely new way of life. His mother took in boarders, his sister found work as a school teacher, and Fred was obliged to hunt for a job that would enable him to contribute his bit toward the support of the family. Thus in 1875, he started to work at the Chelsea Paper Mills in Norwich as an office boy for 5 dollars a week. There Fred learned every phase of the paper-making trade.

Fuller's homestead in Norwich, Conn. Insets in top, his father and mother. Lower insets, his wife and himself.
Frederick Fuller’s homestead in Norwich, Conn. Insets in top, his father and mother. Lower insets, his wife and himself.

In 1881 Frederick Fuller married 16 years old Rebecca Hamilton Bell (1865-1937), a partnership that lasted for fifty-six years. They had one daughter—Lucy May Fuller (1897–1929).

Soon after his wedding Fuller decided that the opportunities in the paper business were too limited to insure a comfortable future. He worked for 6 months in a brass foundry, but it was too much for his health. Then he ran a cloth stretching machine at a bleachery, before returning to the paper business and left again the paper business, to run a drill press in a boiler factory, where he had an accident and lost one of his fingers.

Although Fuller enjoyed the work in the boiler plant, his health showed no improvement. The doctors said he would have to have outdoor work before he could expect to become robust. And it was at this time that an opportunity presented itself for a job that was to keep him out of doors, in sun and rain, heat and cold, uphill and down dale, for more than two years. He was one of the first five men to don the uniform of a mail carrier in Norwich.

Fuller commenced his long career as an inventor in 1886 when he devised a device for registering and recording the time worked by employees and automatically computing their wages. The machine was patented in 1888 (US patent No. 379865). Fuller managed to convince a local businessman, Mr. Tillinghast, that his device is good enough to be put into production, and he provided money and a place where Fuller could make a real model. He was sent to Waterbury, Conn., the national center of manufacture of metal models, to carry on his work. Even a company had been formed to market the new machine, but when his main patron died, the project was abandoned, thus Fuller became again unemployed.

In 1888 Fuller was engaged in Specialty Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Conn, owned by the Griswold family. There he saw a cash register and decided to create a better one himself. Working together with George Griswold, son of the owner, he created and patented a very good cash register. They established Union Cash Register Co. to manufacture their machine, and the company existed until 1907, when it was acquired by the great National Cash Register Co. of Dayton, Ohio.

The Remington Cash Register of Frederick Fuller
The Remington Cash Register of Frederick Fuller

In 1909, Fuller was invited to join the National Cash Register Co. in the invention department. He worked for NCR for eight years, the last three years as the chief inventor. While in Dayton, Fuller made friends with the sales manager, Thomas J. Watson, the future chairman of IBM.

In 1917 Fuller left NCR, to accept the position of chief inventor in the cash register line in the Remington Arms Co. of Bridgeport, Conn. Fuller developed inside the stipulated time limit a register known as the Remington (see the nearby image), which was a success from the moment it was placed on the market.

In 1925, just fifty years after he had taken his first job in the paper mill in Norwich, Fuller made up his mind that a half-century of steady work had entitled him to spend the rest of his days in leisure. But complete retirement, after one has been as active as he had been all his life, is not the ideal state that is so fondly imagined. So, when in 1927 Thomas Watson invited him to join the inventions staff of IBM, he accepted his invitation with alacrity.

Frederick Fuller (right) and Thomas J. Watson (left), the chairman of IBM, outlining a new machine
Frederick Fuller (right) and Thomas J. Watson (left), the chairman of IBM, outlining a new machine

The main creature of Fuller in IBM was the 801 Bank Proof machine (patent No. 1946906 from 1934), which could list and separate checks, endorse them, and record totals. By replacing hand-written teller sheets, the 801 machine, as well as its successor, the 803 Proof Machine, dramatically improved the efficiency of the check-clearing process.

Frederick Fuller was a remarkable inventor. He was a holder of many patents for various devices and mechanisms, starting with the above-mentioned patent No. 379865 from 1888, for a device for registering and recording the time worked by employees and automatically computing their wages; then 2 patents for cash registers (No. No.420554 and 420555); 2 more patents for time recorders (431344 and 435582 from 1890); computing scale (580783); cash indicator (585467); 2 more patents for cash registers from 1897 (585468 and 585565); price scales (602658, 603503, 603504, and 603505); and many others.

Frederick Fuller kept his position at IBM until his death on 29 April 1943, at his home in Llewellyn Park, Essex County, New Jersey.