James Ritty was by his own description a dealer in pure whiskies, fine wines and cigars. Common folk would probably just refer to him as a saloonkeeper. He opened his first saloon in Dayton, Ohio in 1871. His life as the owner of a saloon was not without its angst; Ritty was certain his bartenders – a disreputable lot – were pocketing a portion of his profits. In those days, beer was but a nickel a stein or fifteen cents a bucket and came with a free lunch of boiled eggs, sardines, blind robins (little nuggets made from salt and herring), cold meats, pigs’ feet, pickles, pretzels, crackers, and bread. Every penny counted.
In 1878, on a steamboat trip to Europe but worrying about the saloon back home, Ritty became fascinated by a mechanism that counted how many times the ship’s propeller went around. Could something like this record the cash transactions made at his saloon? As soon as he returned home to Dayton, Ritty and his brother, a mechanic, began working on a design for such a device. Eventually, they devised a machine operated by pressing a key that represented a certain amount of money. The Rittys patented the design on November 4, 1879, calling it “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier.”
They opened a small factory in Dayton to manufacture the devices while still operating the saloon. The company didn’t do all that well, and Ritty was overwhelmed by the running of two businesses, so in 1881, he sold the cash register business. The buyers were a group of investors who formed the National Manufacturing Company which was renamed the National Cash Register Company a few years later.
Free of the cash register business and able to keep those pesky bartenders honest, Ritty opened another saloon, the Pony House, in 1882, in a historic Dayton building that had been a school of French and English for young ladies. For the Pony House, Ritty had wood carvers create a 32-foot bar that looked like the interior of a passenger railcar with Honduras mahogany, hand-tooled leather, and giant mirrors . Dining, drinking and gaming were the specialties of the Pony House – along with occasional fruitless searches for young French-speaking ladies. The saloon had it’s share of notable customers: Buffalo Bill Cody once rode his horse right up to the bar; John Dillinger (who never robbed a saloon) was a regular; and Jack Dempsey frequently took his spirits, never taking part in a barroom brawl.
The Pony House building was torn down in 1967, but the bar was saved and today resides at Jay’s Seafood in Dayton.
Buffalo Bill, John Dillinger, and Jack Dempsey all follow Wretched Richard’s Almanac –well, they would have if they could have, maybe. Just think, you can do something those guys couldn’t. Makes you kind of have to, doesn’t it? Support Wretched Richard’s ego trip.