Geek Beginnings.

Photo from Flickr.

This photo is from 1987 and obtained from Flickr. The cash register is an NCR 255 at a Super Fresh somewhere in New Jersey. In the back office of the Super Fresh is an NCR 726 Minicomputer handling the bulk of computing power for this and the other terminals in the supermarket. I believe the NCR 255 was the first cash register with scanning capabilities.

As a young lad I was always fascinated with cash registers, especially the NCR 255. The grocery store near Grandma City, independently owned Nichols IGA, had NCR 255 registers in the late 1970s and early 1980s and they were quite nifty. They just seemed so high tech, with their glowing little indicator lights, tilted display, and efficient impact printer that quietly typed out the receipt and journal tape. Built to typical 1970s standards, they keyboards were robust, they machine itself weighed nearly 100 pounds, and the mechanics of it all brought structure and organization to the handling of the associated information in a way my geek mind really appreciated.

I briefly used an NCR 255 as a cashier at Hills Department Store. Even though it was tasked with non-grocery functions, the register had the same number of buttons and made the same noises. Within a few short weeks of my starting at Hills the registers were replaced with IBM’s latest and greatest at the time, the IBM 4683. Even though the IBM 4683 was quite capable and did the job well, it felt less robust with a lot more plastic and tepid response on the keyboard. The dot-matrix printer whined.

Once in a great while I’ll find a video or photo about the NCR 255, or its less capable but still quite robust sibling the NCR 250, and ponder about how great it was to be alive during the early days of computing we take for granted today. This is where being a solid Gen Xer is awesome; witnessing how things were and how they became to be.

Long live vintage computing equipment!