James Alvan Macauley – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions


James Alvan Macauley – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Who was James Alvan Macualey?

Wheeling, West Virginia, was the place of James Alvan Macauley’s birth on June 19, 1872. James Alexander Macauley and Rebecca Jane (Mills) Macauley (1849-1906) were his parents. To prevent any potential confusion between his name and his father’s name, Macauley would insist on being called Alvan.

Alvan went on to become a skilled patent attorney and wealthy businessman. During his career, he was employed by several prestigious businesses, such as the National Cash Register Company, the American Arithmometer Company, and the illustrious automobile manufacturer Packard. He was able to provide each of these institutions with several significant donations.

Quick Facts

Full Name
James Alvan Macauley
June 19, 1872
January 16, 1952
Net Worth
  • He was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1929.
Place of Birth
Wheeling, West Virginia
Fields of Expertise
Macauley was president of the Automobile Manufacturers Association from 1928 until 1945. He also served as president of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce.
He was a patent attorney with the National Cash Register Company and made many contributions to the Packard Company. He is responsible for the patenting of a cash register.
This photo of Macauley was on the Time Magazine cover on July 22, 1929.

Early Life 

James Alexander Macauley, Alvan’s father, was born on November 8, 1840, in Fermanagh County, Ireland. His parents relocated to Glasgow, Scotland, when he was still a young child, but they ultimately made their way to the United States. The family initially made their home in Jefferson County, Ohio, in 1850, but in 1854 they relocated to Wheeling, Virginia.

Both Jefferson County, Ohio, and Wheeling, Virginia, provided young James Alexander with the opportunity to receive his education in the public sector. He had a voracious appetite for knowledge and eventually completed more training in the legal field between the years 1865 and 1868. In 1868, he was granted admission to the bar.

The Macauley family relocated to Washington, District of Columbia, in the 1880s, which is when young Alvan began his education there. He obtained his degree in engineering from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. After that, he continued his education at Columbian College, which later became George Washington University, and was awarded a law degree.

National cash register

Macauley’s first patent was for the cash register


Phase 1: The National Cash Register Company

James Alvan Macauley became the patent attorney for the National Cash Register Company (NCR) in Dayton, Ohio. In 1896, he applied for his first patent, which would later become known as US Patent No. 587042, for the cash register.

This invention was the first of several patents that Macauley obtained for cash machines and adding devices. That patent was eventually assigned to NCR. Several others consisted of the following, among others:

  • US589476
  • US595882
  • US823474
  • GB190327874
Charles Lindbergh (right) with Alvan Macauley by the Packard-powered Stinson “Detroiter”, August 1929.

Phase 2: American Arithmometer Company

In 1901, Macauley made a move to St. Louis to take a position with the American Arithmometer Company as the general manager. An arithmometer had been an early mechanical counting and multiplying device. It was also known as a tally machine. During Macauley’s time, this device appeared to be a hybrid of an abacus and a graphic equalizer that had been concealed behind a humidor.

He gave new life to the company, and by 1905, when he was looking to broaden the scope of the enterprise, he had his sights set on a particular street.

Macauley restructured the business into Burroughs after moving to Detroit and establishing himself there. The person who came up with the idea for the adding machine, which would later become the company’s flagship product, inspired this name for the company. In Detroit, Alvan Macauley served as the CEO of American Arithmometer Co. for five years.

James Alvan Macauley in 1930.

What Exactly Was it that James Alvan Macauley Came Up With?

This invention is the very first cash register that Alvan Macauley created, as depicted in the patent design that may be found below.

The fundamental purpose of the innovation is to connect a registering system with several type-bars and types. This is the main goal of the invention. It is made up of two different series of keys: the first series represents the letters of the alphabet, while the second series of keys represent the digits. Every key in both sets includes both a type-bar as well as a type of its own. In the same way, as a traditional typewriter does, this machine has a carriage that bears a platen and is arranged to hold a strip in place so that it can take impressions whenever the keys drive the type.

The gadget is operated in a manner that is analogous to that of a typewriter when it is being used in its most common use. If the user wishes to register a quantity, for example, five cents, they will need to move the dial panel until the pointer meets the “cents” notch. Only then will the amount be registered. Because of this, the clutch members get engaged, and as a result, the registering wheels are thrown into operational communication with the key cams. After that, the user would press the “period” key, which would cause the character to be printed onto the sheet of paper on the platen. The next thing the user would do is push the “0” key, then quickly press the “5” key.

The first patent of Alvan Macauley.

What Did James Alvan Macauley Become Famous for During His Lifetime?

James Alvan Macauley was an attorney specializing in patent law, as well as a shrewd businessman who was quite successful in several different ventures. In addition to having a significant impact on the National Cash Register Firm, he was the leader of Packard during the period when the company was at the forefront of innovation in the luxury vehicle industry. He contributed significantly to the conclusion that the Rolls Royce Merlin engine should be produced. In the years that followed the end of World War II, he was also a participant in the strategy to produce automobiles, with prices falling somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

James Alvan Macauley died on January 16, 1952, in Clearwater, Florida from an attack of uremic poisoning and pneumonia.

Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Other Aspects of Macauley’s Personal Life 

Alvan Macauley had a height of 178 centimeters, which is equivalent to around five feet 11 inches. This was thought to be on the tall side for his historical period. In addition to that, he had a square jaw and radiated friendliness all around him. He was interested in a wide variety of things. He was an avid golfer, an accomplished marksman, and the proud owner of a sizeable collection of weaponry for his private use. In the majority of his spare time, Macauley could be found in his woodworking shop, where he crafted various pieces of furniture, most notably English period pieces. He spent winter in Florida and traveled to Europe once every 12 months. The words “Important if True” were written on a sign that was hung about his office door.


On November 20, 1895, James Alvan Macauley wed Estelle Littlepage


Macauley and Estelle had three children: Margaret, Alvan, Jr., and Edward.

James Alvan Macauley: Awards and Accomplishments

During his time at Packard, James Alvan Macauley was the driving force behind several successful endeavors. Among these is the very first diesel engine that had the capability of getting an airplane off the ground. Additionally, he was instrumental in Packard achieving its reputation as having the most advanced testing facilities available anywhere in the world. Finally, during his time as the patent attorney for the National Cash Register Company, he was the one who was ultimately responsible for the invention of the cash register.

In addition to this, Macauley was active in a large number of well-known organizations. Both the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce and the American Automobile Manufacturers Association were led by him throughout his tenure as president of both organizations. He was featured on the front issue of Time Magazine in 1929.

Up Next…

  • Cash Register: The Complete History: The road to the invention of the cash register was long – with each inventor improving on the last. Read more here!
  • The Complete History of The Burroughs Adding Machine: Many inventors held patents on adding machines – why was the Burroughs so successful? Find out!
  • Meet Milton Jeffers – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions: Before Macauley, there was Milton Jeffers, whose inventions paved the way to the invention of the cash register.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was James Alvan Macauley?

James Alvan Macauley was a brilliant businessman, engineer, and patent attorney.

What did James Alvan Macauley invent?

James Alvan Macauley was responsible for patenting a cash register.

How did James Alvan Macauley invent his cash register?

Macauley’s main object for the cash register was for the invention to combine with a registering mechanism a series of type-bars and type.

When was James Alvan Macauley born?

James Alvan Macauley was born on June 19, 1872.

When did James Alvan Macauley die?

He died on January 16, 1952.

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