6 Comments

Data Terminal Systems.

From Shutterstock

In 1979 our local grocery store, which we called “the P&C” and was actually called “P&C Foods”, upgraded their checkout systems from the venerable mechanical NCR Class 5 cash registers to Electronic Cash Registers made by Data Terminal Systems of Maynard, Massachusetts. I’ve included a photo of the type of cash register above; photo courtesy of a screen cap from a Shutterstock video. I don’t know who the cashier is, and the video is from another grocery store somewhere else in the country, but she seems friendly enough.

The P&C installed Data Terminal Systems Model 440 cash registers. These electronic cash registers replaced the functions of their mechanical predecessors in that prices were still entered by the cashier, departments were selected, and there was no scanning available at the time. Other store chains in the area had these new electronic cash registers as well and being the young geek I was at the time, I was able to identify by the printing on the receipt whether the store in question went with the “Series 400” cash registers or the more simplistic (but still quite capable) “Series 300” cash registers. I do remember the Series 400 cash registers were able to do rudimentary price look ups; at “The P&C”, a “53 PL#” followed by a price on the receipt meant my mother bought a loaf of Wonder Bread. After the “53 PL#” was a price, like “.99 GR”. Nowhere did it indicate this was a loaf of bread, it was something I had to figure out for myself.

I was fascinated with these electronic cash registers and through hours and hours of careful studying of the receipts my mother left in the bottom of grocery bags, I was able to figure out how these cash registers worked. A watchful eye of cashiers at work helped my observational understanding. Two cashiers at “the P&C” were a favorite; one was named Delores and she was a gangly sort of young woman always stationed on Register #2. Another, a woman by the name of Betty Brown, was the personification of a sigh; she always seemed resigned to her job and she was usually on Register #1. She didn’t move as quickly on the DTS 440 as Delores did on Register #2.

There isn’t a lot of information online about Data Terminal Systems of Maynard, Mass. My scant research has revealed that it was led by a pilot by the name of Bob Collings of Stow, Mass. From what I am able to gather, he left Digital Equipment Corporation, also of Maynard, Mass. (and a company I worked for in the late 1980s) and struck out on his own after Sears & Roebuck approaches Digital to have them computerize their point of sale operations and CEO and founder Ken Olsen turned down the opportunity. Apparently Mr. Collings felt there was ample opportunity for Electronic Cash Registers that were able to chat with one another in the marketplace, and he, along with other DECcies, formed Data Terminal Systems.

At one time I had a large collection of receipts from these cash registers, as I saved that sort of thing while I studied them, but I believe they have long been lost. After all, it’s been decades.

I would love to find one of the cash registers in a thrift store or flea market to see if I can figure out how they tick. From the little information available online about DTS, I believe they were 4-bit machines, with processors made by Rockwell. The earlier models didn’t have scanning, but all models were designed to by upgraded to a more powerful model by field personnel. I do know they had “Star Trek (The Original Series)” look to them and I found them very nifty. I can still hear the distinct sounds of the Seiko EP-101 (later known as “Epson”) printer in my head.

My search continues for equipment by Data Terminal Systems. I hope to create a website dedicated to the memories and information of this company that started the Electronic Cash Register revolution as we know it today.

Maybe one day I’ll stumble across one of these registers at a flea market here in Chicago. I know these machines are what got me started in computers to begin with.

6 Comments

  1. Hi. My name is Orin Anderson. I was (back in the day) project manager for the DtS 440. I would like to get contact information for anyone who worked at DTS. Maybe a reunion,
    Orin

    1. Hello Orin. Thanks for stopping by the site! Unfortunately you’re the first one from DTS that has ever stopped by, but if someone else stops by I’ll be sure to make sure they see your comment.

      And while I’m writing, thanks for your work on the DTS 440. It sparked my interest in computers and gadgets over 40 years ago and because of that spark I’m a successful software developer today. I’ve never gotten my hands on a DTS register aside from a couple of Model 150s. I’m always on the search for any documentation or information I can find.

      Best regards,
      J.P.

  2. Hi! Thanks for putting up this blog, JP!

    I found it very informative — as I was searching for info on Data Terminal Systems.

    My family’s grocery chain [Hinky Dinky, in the Midwest] used DTS terminals until we sold the biz in 1973.

    They were an integral part of our conversion to computer-tracked inventory, and were part of the reason we were so successful back then.

    PBN

    1. Hello! Thanks for stopping by the site. Do you remember if you had Series 300 or 400 (or maybe even 200?) registers at Hinky Dinky? Information on these registers is little-to-none on the Internet, but my quest for more information continues. I’ll post it as I find it.

  3. Hey there, I was a service tech for a local cash register company in 1977 and cut my teeth on DTS systems starting with the model 300 up through the 2200 when I left that business in 1987 and started a new roll as a microcomputer analyst. My last roll at that company was manager of sales support and I did all kind of custom programming on the DTS 500 series using a macro programming language. I also did programming on the DEC PDP-11 which was used as a back office system for the first DTS scanner based systems in the early 80’s.

    The small mom and pop company I worked for did a crap load of business with DTS. I was trained in Maynard MA multiple times and we eventually did third party repair of DTS circuit boards for other POS companies.

    If not for the DTS systems I’m not sure that I ever would have followed my path into IT from software development in the late 80’s up to where I am now as a senior network engineer.

    Don’t ask me why but the word Sweda popped into my brain this morning and I did some googling for it. Sweda was a cash register company in the 70’s that made primarily mechanical cash registers but then developed some electronic versions prior to DTS. I’ll never forget servicing the old Sweda ECR that had core memory. On occasion the programming would get messed up and you would have to erase all the memory by removing the core memory board and running a magnet over one side to get all the cores to flip to zero. Crazy stuff, google it.

    Anyway unfortunately I have not seen any old DTS equipment in my travels and doubt any of it works. Although it was cutting edge at the time and were some serious design flaws and my guess is that none of that equipment could have stand the test of time.

    J

    1. Great to hear from you. Yeah, I’m thinking not much in the way of DTS equipment survived this long. I had a couple of DTS Model 150s about 10 years ago and they weren’t doing well, throwing a bunch of crazy characters on the displays, etc.

      As a former DEC employee I kinda thought some of the DTS equipment ran off of PDPs or VAXen in the back room. My interest in DTS definitely started off my software development career.

      Thanks for stopping by the site!

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