How to automate a habit and never think about it again

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John Henry Patterson was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1844. He spent his childhood doing chores on the family farm and working shifts at his father’s sawmill. After attending college at Dartmouth, Patterson returned to Ohio and opened a small supply store for coal miners.

It seemed like a good opportunity. The store faced little competition and enjoyed a steady stream of customers, but—for some reason—Patterson's shop still struggled to make money.

Eventually, he learned why: his employees were stealing from him.

In the mid-1800s, employee theft was a common problem. Receipts were kept in an open drawer and could easily be altered or discarded. There were no video cameras to review behavior and no software to track transactions. Unless you were willing to hover over your employees every minute of the day, or to manage all transactions yourself, it was difficult to prevent theft.

As Patterson mulled over his predicament, he came across an advertisement for a new invention called Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier. Designed by fellow Dayton resident James Ritty, it was the first cash register. The machine automatically locked the cash and receipts inside after each transaction. Patterson bought two for fifty dollars each.

Employee theft at his store vanished overnight. In the next six months, Patterson’s business went from losing money to making $5,000 in profit—the equivalent of more than $100,000 today.

Patterson was so impressed with the machine that he changed businesses. He bought the rights to Ritty’s invention and opened the National Cash Register Company. Ten years later, National Cash Register had over one thousand employees and was on its way to becoming one of the most successful businesses in America.

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