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!

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.

Yesterday I noticed in the Waukegan, Illinois Target store the chain has removed the physical keyboards from the NCR point of sale terminals. Watching the cashier work through our transaction, Target has significantly modified the interface of their in-house point of sale software.

I’m just a guy that’s been around technology for a very long time, but forcing keyboard-type input through a touchscreen is not as efficient as actually using a physical keyboard. But alas, I do not make these decisions for Target or any other store chain, for that matter.

The northeastern supermarket chain Hannaford did this years ago with their Wincor-Nixdorf systems. As a software developer focused on efficiency and reducing friction in the user experience, watching a cashier plunk in produce PLUs on a touchscreen always made my skin crawl, as it’s much faster to type 4096 [ENTER] or whatever on a keyboard than stabbing at a 14-inch touch screen.

As I’ve been to several Target stores in the area, it’s interesting to see the chain’s hardware implementation has not been entirely consistent. Some stores have small, Elo touchscreens, while others have larger screens, and others have NCR touchscreens. When you’re writing and maintaining your own software, it’s easy to adjust to differing hardware configurations. This is a good thing, as it’s better to not be locked down to one specific, proprietary configuration.

I’ll be writing more about the history of Target’s point of sale implementations over the next few months. The photos of vintage cash registers and point of sale systems will all have keyboards.

Because keyboards are more efficient.

Courtesy of retrojunk.com

Growing up in along Lake Ontario in Central New York in the 1970s, there were a few Kmarts within reasonable driving distance of our small town. My maternal grandmother was a fan of Kmart, and we would often go shopping with her two one of two stores in the Syracuse, New York area. The closest was the Kmart at Northern Lights Circle in Mattydale. The second choice was Kmart in Western Lights Plaza.

In the mid 1970s, when I became of cash registers and their differences, both of these stores had NCR Class 5 mechanical cash registers. The finest and last of the NCR mechanical cash register line, these machines served Kmart well into the 1980s, long after other stores were already converting to electronic cash registers and early computerized point of sale systems.

NCR Class 5 Mechanical Cash Registers at Kmart. Courtesy of pleasantfamilyshopping.com

There was a third Kmart in the Syracuse area, on Route 57 in suburban Liverpool. This store was a little newer than the other two, and they did not have mechanical cash registers, but rather early electronic cash registers by NCR. I believe they were NCR 230s, one of the the company’s earliest entries into the Electronic Cash Register space. The NCR 230 was bulky and the printer was loud, but from what I could discern, did everything the mechanical Class 5 registers did, but little more. I don’t believe there were any communication capabilities back to a central processor of any sort.

All of the registers had a sticker on the front to remind the cashier: TYFSAK! It took me a little while to figure out what that stood for, “Thank You For Shopping At Kmart”.

For years I had thought these early electronic machines were actually NCR 225 or NCR 220s, but I can’t find any evidence of there being such a thing. However, once I found a photo of the NCR 230, it looked very familiar.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

After the closure of the W.T. Grants chain of department stores, Kmart took over the space of the Grants store on outer Washington Street in Watertown, New York. We went to this store for the grand opening in 1977 and it had the same NCR 230 cash registers.

The receipts generated by the NCR 230 cash registers look like they came from a mechanical cash register. As mentioned before, the printers on the NCR 230 were quite loud, resembling the noises coming from the older NCR Class 5 mechanical registers.

To the casual eye, this receipt looks like it was generated from a mechanical register, but if you look closely, there’s a quantity included on the last item entry, and quantity management was not possible on the Class 5 mechanical registers.

Kmart in Oxford, Ohio, 1976. NCR 230 at the checkouts. Courtesy of pleasantfamilyshopping.com

While the stores I visited were using this mix of NCR mechanical and basic electronic cash registers, other stores in the chain were part of a plan to move forward with the computerized inventory management. At the time, Kmart had very basic inventory identification at the registers. While other chains like Ames, Two Guys, Walmart, etc, were using multiple-digit department and stock number information on their mechanical registers, from what I remember, Kmart had a very basic “Key 1”, “Key 2”, “Key 3” approach. Taking a look at the receipt above, the non-taxable items appear to be rung on “Key 2” and the taxable items appear to be rung on “Key 1”. I’m at a loss for finding a photo with enough detail to scope out a keyboard, but my hazy memory recalls up to “Key 10”.

As time marched into the mid 1980s, the vast majority of Kmarts still used this mix of mechanical and early electronic cash registers. In 1984 I found it ironic that I had purchased a printer for my Commodore VIC-20 at Kmart and the sales slip from Sight and Sound had been imprinted with an NCR Class 5 mechanical cash register.

Kmart did not make exclusive use of NCR equipment during this period. Once I went on to college in 1986, I stopped into the Kmart in Warren, Pennsylvania and noticed they were running Data Terminal Systems Model 440 cash registers. These registers had what I would call a “non-standard” keyboard on them, in that the “Key” buttons were on the right side of the number pad, and the tender keys were on the left side, which was opposite of any other DTS Series 400 register I had ever encountered (and I had a very keen interest in DTS registers back then). In addition, while every DTS Series 400 stamped cash tendered as “CA” (for example, 20.00CA would appear on the receipt), the Kmart DTS 440s were stamping “CS”. A subtle difference, but I noticed. Evidently, the Seiko EP-101 printer used for the Kmart machines did not have room for an “A” character.

As I started expanding life’s horizons and visiting other Kmart stores, it became apparent that the chain was not keeping up with the trend of moving into a more cohesive, computerized point of sale (and inventory management) experience. Some stores would have NCR 255 registers without scanning. Another store had an IBM 3683 system with really slow scanning.

From a 1983 Kmart Financial Report, NCR 255 registers. Notice the “TYFSAK” sticker to the left of the receipt printer, but no sign of scanning anywhere.

It would be well into the latter half of the 1980s when Kmart would start bringing their point of sale practices into a computerized management system of the times. Kmart began the process with the hiring of a Vice President of Electronic Merchandising Systems in 1985.