In 1965, the Singer Sewing Machine Company moved into the world of computers by purchasing the Friden Calculating Machine Company, manufacturers of calculators and other computing equipment. With the purchase of Friden, Inc., Singer Business Machines was born. The Singer System Ten, with its focus on point of sale computing equipment, was released in 1970s.

Kmart Canada took a different path than its U.S. counterpart when it came to equipment used at the checkouts. While Kmart U.S. was generally using NCR Class 5 mechanical cash registers or early electronic cash registers from NCR or Data Terminal Systems, some locations in Canada began using the Singer System Ten and Singer-Friden 908 point of sale terminals. Singer left the computing industry in 1976, selling the SBM division to International Computers Limited. ICL continue developing the Singer line, evolving the System Ten to the System 25. However, along the way, Kmart Canada moved their back-end controllers to microprocessors called the System CD 100, supplied by CyberData of Monterey, California.1

In the early to mid 1980s (still determining the date), the Singer terminals at Kmart Canada stores were undoubtedly coming to their end of useful life. While the machines could be adapted to work with just about any backend system, as these machines were designed to perform mathematical computations at the register, relying on back-end processing for inventory and account lookup information, with SBM equipment being integrated into ICL’s existing systems before the merger, Kmart Canada began looking for new registers.

It appears that Kmart Canada decided to go with the ICL 9500 series of registers.

The ICL 9500 series of registers were somewhat modular in design. Field observations indicate customer pole displays were added to the registers well after the initial installation in the mid 1980s. The keyboard arrangement is also interesting to me, in that the Enter key isn’t a double height or double wide key, but rather just a raised key to the right of the bottom row of the number pad. The printers appear to be Epson printers using 44mm receipt tape.

Like the Singer predecessors, the ICL 9500s could be adapted to work with a variety of back-end systems. Back in this era, point of sale systems tended to store and forward data to other mainframe systems; there are plenty of examples where NCR cash registers in the early 1980s were supported by IBM Series/1 installations. While manufacturers preferred they used their “complete package”, there were other options.

In the latter half of the 1980s, the CIO of Kmart in the United States was focused on solving point of sale issues in the American stores. After a couple of failed attempts through Kmart U.S.’s work with IBM and NCR, the CIO and team worked with a variety of vendors for a cohesive solution. Kmart in the states moved to point of sale and inventory software by Post Services International, or PSI, of North Carolina. While Kmart stores in states could have NCR, IBM, or Fujitsu registers at the checkouts, they all ran on the same software. It appears Kmart Canada was a little ahead of their American counterparts in the front end technology department, and worked with PSI to get the same software running on their ICL 9500 series cash registers.

There are a couple of clues on the receipt pictured above that it’s a variant of the software running on the registers in the American Kmart stores of the time, primarily the “158 158” in the receipt data footer.

Like Kmart in the states, Kmart Canada was using satellite communications to connect their stores, warehouses, and offices together. The picture at the top of this entry is grabbed from a video of a CBC News Report about the satellite outage that caused computer outages throughout the chain. Unfortunately that video is no longer available.

Kmart Canada ran with the ICL 9500 series cash registers until the sale of the chain to Zellers in 1998. It was around that same time Kmart and other chains started planning for Y2K. Kmart would eventually move away from PSI to a modified version of IBM’s Supermarket Application (which was used at their Super Kmart stores). Zellers would introduce their mix of NCR and IBM systems to the stores purchased from Kmart Canada.

  • 1 Computerworld, March 1978

As I’m doing more research on how long the Singer-Friden MDTS 908 registers were around, I found a couple of shots of the grand opening of Sears in Casper, Wyoming. The store opened in 1982 and it appears installed the MDTS system in the new store.

I know Sears moved from the Singer-Friden registers to NCR 2152s in the 1980s. I was thinking it was around this time, but it must have been a little later in the decade. Of the electronic systems used by Sears, the NCR 2152 must have been around the shortest time, because in late 1991 CompuAdd in Texas designed cash registers for the Sears contract.

So, the Singer system was around for more than a decade (most likely with upgrades in the backend), the NCR system probably barely made it a decade, the CompuAdd systems were around for 10 years and the IBM SurePOS registers from the early 2000s are still around in the few remaining stores.

Customers line up at the registers during the grand opening of Sears in the Eastridge Mall in Oct. 1982. (Casper Star-Tribune Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
Customers line up in the hardware department at Sears in Eastridge Mall during its grand opening in Oct. 1982. (Casper Star-Tribune Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

The technology “inspiration” photo that hangs in my office

While surfing around on the internet I found some newish photos of the Singer-Friden 908 Cash Register. The find made my heart leap because while the photos were on worthpoint.com, they indicated the source of the listing was eBay. Alas, I could not find a corresponding auction on eBay, because I would certainly go just about anywhere in the lower 48 states to pick up one of these cash registers. They’re in my “top five” of electronic point of sale system geekiness and probably one of the very first systems that caught my attention.

The Singer 908 ran on 2K of RAM. Developed in the late 1960s after Singer purchased Friden, these cash registers were typically found in Sears, JC Penney, and other department store chains. The numeric display showed only numbers; operator guidance was provided through the buttons lighting up in sequence of the program. The back-end system supporting this register was the Singer System Ten. The cash register terminal initiated all communication with the System Ten, communicating over a two-wire connected pair at 1200 baud. All math operations were done locally at the register, the backend provided a credit authorization option and collected all the data from the terminal. Data was traditionally transmitted at the end of the day, but busier locations could schedule interval reports to the back office.

The Singer system was the first fully electronic point of sale system used by Sears. Curiously, I found a photo of a Walmart that also used the Singer system. The first generation of electronic cash registers at Walmart were made by several different manufacturers, NCR and Data Terminal Systems, and apparently, also Singer. The registers are easy to identify with their sleek, “sci-fi” design.

Notice the slight differences in the register above and the register at the bottom of this post. The picture above has a small “friden” logo and “data terminal” in lower case letters, the register at the bottom omits the “friden” logo and instead has “Data Terminal”. The register in the photo at the top of this post omits the “SINGER” name badge.

Here’s an example of a receipt from the Singer register at Sears. The registers were used by the chain into the early 1980s. In fact, I remember one of these registers still in the hardware department at the key duplication station in 1990 at our local Sears store.

I have a marketing brochure that describes how the Modular Data Transaction System was designed to work.

MDTS

Here’s some close up photos of the Singer 908 as found on worthpoint.com.

When I lived in Western New York State, the Quality Markets supermarket chain was using Sweda cash registers with scanning. Depending on the age of the store, there were two versions of these cash registers. The earlier registers had impact printers that were rather loud but seemed to have the entire alphabet at their disposal when printing out the receipt. Newer stores had newer registers running what appeared the be the same software, but with dot-matrix printers handling the printing.

The cashier’s display was a basic guidance panel with numbers and lights, while the customer display was a full alphanumeric display showing the items being scanned. There were “flip cards” on the left side of the register that handled PLUs like produce and such, the “flip cards” triggering a switch the basically acted like a “shift key” so the same key could be used for multiple items. The card had a hand- or typewritten description of the item in question.

I don’t recall seeing the older Sweda systems elsewhere, but Shaw’s Markets in Massachusetts had the newer version with dot-matrix printers into the early 1990s.

I found this photo online of the older Sweda setup. I don’t think it’s a Quality Markets, but the registers are identical. I believe it’s the Sweda 80S system with two back office computers in the back made by Data General.

Photo from The Free Dictionary.

In the late 1950s through the mid 1980s, many store chains used the Sweda Model 46 Dataregister at the checkout. These registers were the usual mechanical cash registers of the time with an additional mechanism on the left hand side. This extra mechanism punched a ribbon tape that would later be fed into a mainframe off site; the ribbon tape typically contained inventory information.

In the early and mid 1970s electronic systems began replacing these mechanical counterparts. Companies such as Data Terminal Systems, IBM, Singer-Friden, TRW, and Pitney-Bowes introduced new electronic point of sale systems into the market. Mechanical cash register manufacturers such as NCR and Sweda also began introducing electronic systems to the space.

I mentioned in a previous entry that the local Two Guys store at Northern Lights Plaza north of Syracuse, New York had electronic cash registers of some sort and I was pretty sure they were made by Sweda. A photo of a standard Two Guys checkout gives us a small glimpse at these registers.

I can’t find a Two Guys receipt from this era, but I previously featured a Bradlees receipt from that time frame that had the same distinct font I remember from the Two Guys receipt.

After some digging around on the Internet, I finally found an up close photo of one of these registers. The cash register is part of the “Sweda 800/80 system”. WT Grants apparently used this system before closing up shop in 1975. This is interesting to me, because the Two Guys at Northern Lights moved into a closed up WT Grants store at the same location.

From a Facebook search from a user in Mexico.
Back office computer

I’m still on the hunt for scans of old Two Guys receipts to confirm my research, as well as any other photos from the chain. I don’t know if Two Guys use of Sweda 800/80 registers was common to the chain, to the region, or to a particular store. At the time, many of the department store chains had varying register systems depending on region or location.

I found a listing for this Sweda 76 on Craigslist. It’s currently for sale in the Denver area. It’s never been used and was pulled for its original box for these photos.

I know this model and features from identical registers at Ames Department Stores’ service desks before the chain converted to the IBM 3680 Programmable Store System in the early 1980s. I can’t make out all the buttons in the left hand column, but the top two refer to layaways, and the bottom two (in the “4” and “3” row) are for inventory purposes. The features on this Sweda 76, and similar features on the Sweda 46, were used for inventory tracking purposes. The mechanism on the very left is for a punch tape that was removed and sent to a main office for routine scanning into a mainframe. The two inventory buttons are for “double pass” items. The cashier would enter two sets of numbers when ringing up these “double pass” items, usually in softlines. First pass would be an inventory number and the second pass would be the department or class along with the price. At least that’s the way Ames did it.

I suspect the other two buttons are related to refunds and other service desk functions. At the time, Ames handled layaways at the service desk. It would be later in the chain’s history that it would be moved to the back of the store with its own counter.

I stumbled across this video on YouTube from the Hagley Museum and Library channel. It is a very informative video on the IBM 5260 Retail Solution from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A couple of interesting things about the cash register of this retail solution:

  1. The cashier prompts are actually a “rolling” tape with the appropriate prompt displayed through a window
  2. The keyboard was not conducive to touch-style entry. The chicklet keyboard required a firm touch and the keys were oddly sized
  3. The reason for the chicklet keyboard was the paper overlays used for programming the cash register
  4. Multiple registers could be networked together
  5. Data was stored on 8-inch floppy disks, much like the IBM 3684 from around the same era

I had the opportunity to work on one of these registers for a mall photo shop in the 1991 or 1992. By that time the cash register was pretty beat up but still worked reliably. The new owner of the store needed assistance in learning how the register worked and what his upgrade paths were. Providing this information was a lot of fun for me, though I was learning about the register along the way as well. The majority of my IBM point of sale experience, up to that point, had been writing user exits on the IBM 4680 series of registers as a contract programmer.

Enjoy the video!

So, a fellow Vintage Point of Sale aficionado and I are trying to figure out what Kmart Canada used for their point of sale system in the mid 1980s until Kmart left Canada in 1997. We suspect they were made by NEC.

Take a look in this newspaper photo, the register is spotted from the side in the Computer department.

Things we know:

  • The cash registers started out with the old Kmart inventory “keys”
  • The cash registers were upgraded to scanning, however, before the actual scanners were installed, they cashiers entered UPC codes into the registers
  • There was a two line alphanumeric 13-segment LED display
  • The registers may have been connected with a 10 Base T BNC cable

If you have any information, please reply to this entry.

I stumbled across this receipt from Ames. it’s dated Valentine’s Day 1987. Click here to see the ebay Auction.

This receipt was generated by an IBM 3683 or 3684 register, running a later version of the Programmable Store Solution software Ames started out with in the early 1980s. The cashier entered the SKU and price and the register had the ability to know the sale price of that particular item (but not the selling price of all items).

The purchase was made at store #23 on register one. The lone “1” in the top row indicates this was a CASH-1 sale. Looking at the DOC #, I have never figured out with the “702” represents; the “6” at the end is a checksum digit.

For some reason I remember the tax line being right justified with “SUBTOTAL” and “TOTAL; I wonder if that changed with the later version of software.

I’d be curious to know where store #23 was.

From the Zayre Store Appreciation Group on Facebook.

In the beginning days of this site I wrote a fairly brief history about Zayre’s first inventory point of sale control system when we were taking a look at Ames and the purchase and integration efforts of the chain. When Ames purchased Zayre, the company was running NCR 2552 cash registers across the chain, presumably with NCR 726 Minicomputers supporting the efforts on the backend and handling the communications duties with mainframes and the like. Like Hills and Jamesway (among others), Zayre used two-digit department numbers, and added a four digit “style” number for their SKU. Because of the proprietary nature of the NCR solution, a receipt from Hills or Bradlees running the NCR system would have pretty much the same format as a receipt from Zayre. I have found no evidence of Zayre running older NCR 255s or another solution from another manufacturer in any of their stores. All signs point to NCR 2552s. If anyone knows to the contrary, please feel free to comment so I can research further.

Prior to the move to the NCR electronic/computerized system, Zayre was using Sweda Model 46 registers at the checkouts and Model 76 at the service desk. Other chains did the same thing during this era. The Sweda registers provided inventory information by punching an optical tape that would be unloaded and sent to a central office for processing by a mainframe. Zayre used two-digit department numbers and some of their items used a “double-pass” system, where a further inventory control number would be punched into the Sweda register before the department and price were rung up. I don’t know if Zayre used all the keys on the keyboard or just two digit first-pass/style numbers for items, still doing research in the area.

Typical Zayre receipt from a Sweda 46. From the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

Zayre used department 90 for sales tax. I wonder if this was because it was the upper left-hand key on the keyboard, as Ames did the same thing with their classification three digit class numbers, using 900 as the class for sales tax. After the move to the NCR 2552 registers, when a cashier entered the amount tendered, the register would briefly show the tax amount, for example “90 0.42”, on the display before showing the change or balance due.

Unfortunately, the receipt above doesn’t show any evidence of a “double-pass” item, normally there’d be a notation of CM or something similar in the very left-hand column.

Sweda Model 46 cash registers at a Zayre store. Interesting angle of the register on lane 2, I’ve never run across a Sweda register that looked like that. Courtesy of Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

The Sweda 76 Cash Registers provided more functionality than the Sweda Model 46 registers typically found at the checkouts. At the time, department stores tended to process layaways up front at the service desk, and the Sweda 76 registers were configured to handle layaways and returns. The Sweda 76 also used a double wide receipt tape.

From the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

On the receipt above you’ll see “CC” on the left hand column of the receipt. I’m not sure if this refers to a double pass item or something else.

From the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

Here’s a photo of a service desk at Zayre after the conversion to the NCR 2552. The NCR 2552 was a modular cash register. At the checkouts, Zayre typically put the cash drawer under the counter facing the customer, the register on a stand at a 45ยบ angle to the counter and the printers where a full cash register would normally be situated. The checkout counters had little cubby holes for documentation (rain checks, charge slips, etc) placed above the printers for the NCR 2552. When Ames bought the chain and converted the infrastructure to IBM 4680 OS and IBM 4683 registers, the cubby holes were partially blocked by the height of the IBM registers.

Curiously, Zayre did not use NCR as their vendor of choice for their front-end systems for their other chains TJ Maxx or BJ’s Wholesale Club. Embracing EDI or Electronic Data Interchange in the mid 1980s, the front-end systems were just part of an orchestrated, distributed networking system for the chain. The backend was supported by several different vendors including IBM 308x mainframes, NCR systems, and Digital VAX/VMS systems. Zayre began introducing scanning in 1988, shortly before their acquisition by Ames.

I am happy to have found the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook, affording me the opportunity to fill in some gaps after browsing through photos and memories from former employees.