Harold Cotton, Sr. Cash Register

The National Cash Register Company refurbished this machine and resold it in 1950 to Harold Cotton, Sr. in Greensboro, NC. The register has a single drawer and 26 keys. The keys allowed for sales costing only a handful of change to higher dollar amounts. Common purchase prices of $1 to $5 dollars had their own keys, making it quicker for the cashier to execute a sale. Importantly, the register kept a record of sales and had a lock on the cash drawer. Shop owners had long used cash registers as a tool to control access to money and keep tabs on clerks.
This register tells a powerful story about black-owned, small business in the mid-twentieth century. The register served as the hub exchange in Cotton’s hat blocking shop and it was well-used. At this register both black and white customers paid for the services -- having a hat cleaned or their shoes shined. The profits held inside its drawer and recorded on the paper tape sustained Cotton’s family and the larger African American community.
As a small businessman, Cotton used the income from his shop to move up the economic ladder and promote the welfare of the black community. Profits from the shop supported institutions within the black community, including St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ, the local black Boy Scout troop, and the NAACP.
Black businesses such as Cotton’s, provided an economic foundation for African American communities that faced segregation, disenfranchisement, and violence. Black shops and storefronts provided shelter for the development of black public space in an otherwise hostile environment while the income from these business sustained a range of churches, schools and other community institutions. In many cases, the entrepreneurs who ran businesses, no matter how small, had the capital to fund political and social movements.
Object Name
cash register
date made
National Cash Register Company
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 17 1/2 in x 13 1/4 in x 15 1/8 in; 44.45 cm x 33.655 cm x 38.4175 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
serial number
African American
American Enterprise
See more items in
Work and Industry: Retail and Marketing
American Enterprise
American Enterprise
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Harold Cotton, Jr.

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