John Henry Patterson was born near Dayton, Ohio on 13 December 1844. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1867 and then returned to Dayton where, after trying a couple of other jobs, he went into the coal business with his brother. In 1879 a Dayton tavern owner, James Ritty, invented a cash register. Because Patterson, like Ritty, suspected that pilfering by clerks was a serious problem, he too installed a cash register. The machine made a big difference, and Patterson became convinced that it could become an important product. So in 1884 he bought controlling interest in Ritty's company, which he renamed the National Cash Register (NCR) in 1894. Patterson made technical improvements to the cash register, but more important were his innovations in business practice, such as giving salesmen rigorous training, assigning them exclusive territories, and establishing sales quotas. Thomas J. Watson, one of Patterson's salesmen, carried these business practices over to the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, which he turned into the giant information-processing firm IBM.
Patterson also supported technological innovation, notably the electrification of the cash register through the development, by Charles Kettering, of an appropriate motor. The motor needed to deliver high torque in short spurts, and there needed to be a clutch mechanism to engage and disengage the counting wheels at precisely the right moment. (Shortly afterwards, Kettering took advantage of this work to design a motor, which also needed to deliver high torque rapidly, for an automobile self-starter, introduced in the 1912 Cadillac.) When Patterson died in 1922, NCR dominated the cash-register market worldwide, and it employed 10,000 people in the offices and factories in Dayton.