21 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.

21 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!

    2. Hello again, any chance you still have any DTS Series 300 or 400 manuals? The machines might not be around anymore but I’d love to find some documentation.

  4. Got a Data Terminal Systems 1&13/16″ square acrylic cube with an exposed chip inside, reads ” Data Terminal Systems commemorating production of 75,000th ECR/POS terminal May 1, 1978 Pioneering Business Control Systems For Today’s Modern Retailer” And I sure would like to sell it, was trying to figure out how much to ask for it when I came across this site.

  5. Hello, I was a cash register technician for the local South African Sweda dealers when we took on the DTS agency in 1975. In 1980 I had the opportunity to work for DTS Europe software support division based at their Ireland offices in Clondalkin, Dublin. I also did contract work for their UK subsidiary in Maidenhead (now called Datachecker after DTS was purchased National Semiconductor. Datachecker was subsequently bought by ICL), working primarily on the macro programs for their Thorn Television customer from 1987 to 1989. I still have the macro layout sheets and ram location definitions for the model 520/521 as well as some copied pages from the PDP11 retail macro generator manual. I can scan these and let you have them if you are interested.

  6. Great blog! Growing up in the 80’s, I’ve always had a fascination with cash registers. Several retailers in my area used DTS registers; Demoulas/Market Basket grocery stores and Ann&Hope department stores are the two that popped into my head. Market Basket used them up till around 1990 and replaced them with NCR scanning terminals. They did still use the DTS registers outside during the summer for flower/plant sales through the 90’s. Ann&Hope used a model that had alpha numeric print on their receipts. They closed all of their stores back in 2001.
    I remember the Sweda cash registers being owned by Litton and then Hugin. Hugin used to make the mechanical machines for Victor. I have a Victor model 36S cash register that was made by Hugin, for my home bar. It can be plugged in or used manually with the crank. I would also like to get my hands on one of the DTS machines. You may want to contact Market Basket corporate in Tewksbury, MA. It’s possible that they have some of these in storage or something. Good luck, and please post anything you might find!

  7. Hi! Loved reading about DTS registers in your grocery store. Here in the UK I worked for a toy and hobby store called Beatties from 1986 to 1994. Beatties had DTS series 500 registers installed in 1982 and continued to use DTS series 500 registers until 2000. The company went bust in 2001. I loved those machines; they were way superior to a lot of newer registers in many ways and the Seiko printers were awesome! I can remember the exact sound they made churning out X and Z reports now! I’d love to find out more, share memories with others, and one day get my hands on a series 500 machine – no sign of them on places like e-bay; I’ve been looking for years! I’ve subscribed to your blog but if you ever get any more DTS info, pictures, etc., or want to have a geeky chat about them would you let me know?
    All the best.

  8. I just watched an episode of MONK on Netflix. The episode featured Willie Nelson, but also had a guest appearance by a DTS register at the super market.
    The episode was aired in 2002.
    I was surprised to see a system still operating.
    I was a service tech all over Indiana in. 1981-1983.

    1. Here in the UK in the late 1970s a supermarket chain Fine Fare was undergoing a massive expansion into large superstores. These new stores all had Data Terminal Systems checkouts, I remember being quite fascinated by them, I don’t remember how they worked but were certainly different any other cash registers at the time in other stores.
      Sadly Fine Fare were taken over by the Dee Corporation around 1987, trading under Gateway Foodmarkets name, and they took the backwards step of replacing the DTS with a more standard and unremarkable Omron cash registers which were still going in some stores up until the mid 1990s.
      Also another chain WH Smith stationers and booksellers also had DTS checkouts in their stores in the 1980s and early 1990s, but they additionally had an early form of scanning in that their terminals had a laser scanning pen attached, similar to those in use in many of our local libraries.
      I seem to remember that the laser scanning pens could be hit and miss as they had to be physically run across the whole barcode unlike the newer full barcode readers.
      Besides Fine Fare and WH Smith I don’t recall any other UK retailers with DTS.

      1. Habitat used DTS checkouts until the mid 1990’s. Argos had them everywhere. Beatties Models and Toys, where I worked, used them and at one point we had a bit of a ding-dong going with Argos because they were much bigger than us and could afford to pay their staff much better than we did, and they worked out that we trained our staff very thoroughly on the DTS tills, so they were in the habit of poaching some of our staff, especially in the run up to Christmas! I think Argos kept them until well into the 1990’s – long after I left Beatties in 1994 anyway. Scotch Corner toy shops in Scotland used them too.

    2. I looked up this episode specifically for this purpose. They looked like Series 500 registers. I noticed the customer display was turned away from the camera (and the customer) so as to not advertise the company name. I was curious if it was marked Data Terminal Systems or National Semiconductor/DTS (after the buyout). I never caught a glimpse though.

      1. I looked up the episode: oh fond memories! shame it doesn’t show much in the way of the register operating … they are the same as Beatties used as Master Tills …. we used to call them the ‘sit up and beg’ tills and they were, as I recall 2500 machines, whilst the plain 500’s had the cash drawer built into the sloping front under the keyboard.

  9. I worked at Data Terminal Systems in the early 1970s. If I recall correctly, I was employee # 20….I was there until 1975 or so. It was a great place to work. My father eventually worked there and was involved in integrating product scanning with the DTS cash register systems.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I didn’t really notice the company until DTS 440 cash registers were installed in our local grocery store in 1979, though I vaguely remember DTS 300 Series registers being used in a local chain drug store before then.

      The 300 series I remember had two drawers and I want to say they had two separate cash tend buttons in the upper left hand corner of the keyboard, one marked “A” and one marked “B”. This was different than single drawer models, which had the “TOTAL CASH” button in the same place as the Model 440s. I know some stores were using Model 440s until the later 1990s, did they ever get scanning capabilities?

  10. Price Chopper (Golub Corporation) Supermarkets used DTS registers for scanning well into the late 1990s. They looked and acted like Series 500 registers but for some reason I feel like they were actually marked Series 2500 or Series 2550. I remember most had the Data Terminal Systems name plate, but some had National Semiconductor/DTS.

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