Hello readers, today we‘re going to dive into the remarkable life and career of John Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company (NCR). Patterson was a transformative figure in business and industry during America‘s Gilded Age of rapid industrialization. He pioneered management and sales practices that helped turn NCR into a dominant force. Let‘s explore Patterson‘s trailblazing accomplishments, as well as the controversies surrounding his intense drive to succeed.
John Patterson was born in 1844 in Dayton, Ohio, an industrious manufacturing hub. As a child, he gained a strong work ethic laboring on his family’s farm and sawmill. After graduating college, Patterson held various jobs including a canal toll collector and manager at a coal company started by his brothers.
This early executive experience whetted Patterson’s appetite for business leadership. When he learned about an exciting new invention called the “cash register” in 1879, Patterson knew it could revolutionize retail transactions.
The cash register was invented just a few years earlier in 1879 by James Ritty. His “Ritty Model I Cashier Machine” aimed to prevent theft by recording transactions. But Ritty lacked the resources and know-how to successfully bring it to market.
Sensing huge potential, Patterson and his brother purchased Ritty’s patent and manufacturing operations in 1884, renaming the company National Cash Register (NCR).
Under Patterson’s leadership, NCR improved the cash register’s design and aggressively marketed it as an indispensable tool for retail businesses of all kinds. Adoption exploded – by 1893, NCR controlled a dominant 95% share of the cash register market.
Let‘s look closer at how Patterson drove such meteoric growth and impact.
Pioneering Employee Practices That Transformed American Industry
One of Patterson’s greatest legacies was revolutionizing how companies treated their workers. At the time, factory conditions were often abysmal. But Patterson implemented a host of progressive policies that improved life for NCR employees.
For example, he guaranteed minimum wages for workers rather than force them to rely on variable piecework pay. Employees also received disability insurance, paid sick leave, and paid vacations – extraordinary benefits for factory workers in the late 1800s.
Patterson went even further to create a healthy, supportive work environment. The NCR factory maximized use of natural sunlight and pumped in music during the workday. Workers had access to drinking fountains, bathrooms, and an on-site infirmary.
These amenities offered a stark contrast to the typical factories of the Industrial Revolution era – dark, dirty, crowded and unsafe. NCR quickly gained a reputation as a highly desirable employer. Worker productivity and satisfaction substantially improved under Patterson‘s people-first policies.
For instance, yearly worker turnover at NCR was just 5%, compared to much higher rates exceeding 25% at other manufacturers. And with his guaranteed wage system, Patterson also tied worker pay to company profits. This motivated employees to boost efficiency and quality. By 1895, NCR‘s 2,000 workers produced twice as many cash registers as competitors with workforces triple the size.
As word spread, Patterson‘s progressive practices exerted influence far beyond NCR. Companies across America began adopting similar employee benefits and workplace improvements. It marked a pivotal shift from the exploitative labor policies that dominated during industrialization‘s early decades. Patterson helped usher in a more socially conscious era of management.
Revolutionizing Sales Management and Training
In addition to his positive treatment of factory employees, Patterson also pioneered new best practices in salesforce management and education.
He implemented formal sales quotas, target incentive programs, and contests to motivate sales agents. Patterson also developed one of the nation‘s first dedicated sales training programs at NCR‘s Sugar Camp training facility.
The company put new hires through intensive classroom and field training on sales techniques, product knowledge and customer service. NCR also held large sales conventions where Patterson delivered elaborate motivational speeches and recognized top performers.
This professionalized, systematized approach to managing and training sales teams was revolutionary for its time. NCR‘s sales force became renowned across America as an elite group of highly capable, effective salesmen.
In fact, executives from other companies would join NCR just to receive its best-in-class sales education before returning to their careers. Between 1910 and 1930, nearly one-sixth of U.S. business executives had experience working at NCR under Patterson‘s tutelage.
The sales skills and management strategies they learned powered success at companies across America‘s rapidly growing business landscape. Patterson had an invaluable impact on professionalizing the practice of salesmanship.
Using NCR‘s Resources to Save Lives During the Great Dayton Flood of 1913
Beyond his business accomplishments, Patterson also left his mark on Dayton through heroism in a time of crisis.
In March 1913, massive flooding devastated the city when rainfall overwhelmed the Miami River‘s banks. Much of Dayton found itself underwater as thousands struggled to survive without food or clean water for days.
Patterson mobilized NCR‘s workforce to launch rescue efforts. He had NCR employees build hundreds of flat-bottomed boats which were used to reach victims stranded on rooftops and upper floors.
Patterson then helped organize the massive rescue operation. His systems for deploying the boats and volunteers enabled thousands to be evacuated in an orderly fashion. Patterson was universally hailed as a hero, with NCR boat builders praised as Dayton’s saviors.
The “Great Dayton Flood” rescue earned enormous goodwill for NCR. But more importantly, it highlighted Patterson‘s leadership capabilities in a moment of crisis. His quick thinking and experience managing large-scale operations saved countless lives.
Legal Controversies Tarnish Patterson‘s Reputation
Of course, Patterson was not without flaws and controversies. His ceaseless drive to dominate the cash register industry ultimately led to both legal trouble and damaged public perception.
As part of efforts to defend his cash register patent, Patterson authorized legally and ethically dubious practices. NCR spies infiltrated competitors and NCR pressured businesses to avoid rivals‘ products.
This skirting of antitrust laws eventually caught the attention of authorities. In 1912, Patterson and dozens of NCR executives were indicted on charges of unlawful competition under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Although they avoided jail time thanks to a technicality, Patterson was forced to resign as NCR president. The legacy of his bare-knuckle tactics weighed on his image.
Patterson also faced difficulties in his personal life. His first wife died tragically young, and his second marriage ended in a bitter divorce. His relentless focus on business success clearly came at the expense of lasting family relationships.
Nonetheless, Patterson still had an immensely positive impact on American industry. Many of the groundbreaking business and management innovations he introduced at NCR became standard best practices across the corporate landscape.
John Patterson was a titan of America‘s Gilded Age. Despite his flaws, his accomplishments in revolutionizing employee relations, sales management and business operations left an indelible mark. When Patterson passed away in 1922 at age 77, he was rightly remembered as one of the nation‘s great industrial visionaries.