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John Henry Patterson
Born December 13, 1844(1844-12-13)
Died May 7, 1922 (aged 77)
Resting place Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio
Residence Oakwood, Ohio
Alma mater Miami University
Occupation Businessman
Known for Founder of National Cash Register Company, led recovery effort after the Great Dayton Flood

John Henry Patterson (December 13, 1844–May 7, 1922) was an industrialist and founder of the National Cash Register Company. He was a businessperson and salesperson.


Pioneering business practices

In 1893 he constructed the first "daylight factory" buildings with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that let in light and could be opened to let in fresh air as well. This was in an era when sweatshops were still in operation elsewhere. He hired John Charles Olmsted to landscape the grounds of the National Cash Register Company campus in Dayton, with spacious lawns and landscaping with colorful plantings. Olmsted also had a hand in designing the residential community surrounding the plant (South Park) as well as a park system for the City of Dayton.

Based on a 16-page handbook written by his brother-in-law, Patterson established the world's first sales training school on the grounds of the NCR factory campus (at Sugar Camp in Dayton, Ohio). He also coined a phrase for his service division which, until about the time the company was bought by AT&T, hung on the wall of every service department in the company. The phrase was, "We Cannot Afford To Have A Single Dissatisfied Customer".


Patterson was famous for hiring and later firing Thomas Watson Sr, who went on to become General Manager, then President, of CTR, later renamed IBM . Patterson was famous for firing many people on rather trivial grounds, for example, if they couldn't tell him why the flags happened to be flying that day or for not riding a horse properly. [1]

Great Dayton Flood

Both Patterson and Watson were sentenced to one year imprisonment for unfair business practices, later overturned by appeal; both were later pardoned by President Woodrow Wilson as a result of their leadership roles in dealing with the Great Dayton Flood of 1913. During that disaster, John H. Patterson led the recovery efforts. NCR employees built nearly 300 flat-bottomed boats and Patterson organized rescue teams to save the thousands of people stranded on roofs and the upper stories of buildings. He turned the NCR factory on Stewart Street into an emergency shelter providing food and lodging, and he organized local doctors and nurses to provide medical care. Patterson's vision for a managed watershed for the Great Miami River resulted in the development of the Miami Conservancy District, one of the first major flood control districts in the United States.

Death and legacy

Patterson died on May 7, 1922 and is interred in the Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio. He left no great fortune because of his expenditures on social programs at his company, and because he believed that "shrouds have no pockets." He left ownership of the company to his son Frederick Beck Patterson who took it public in 1925. $55 million in stock was offered to the public in what was the largest business public offering up to that time.[citation needed]

Mr. Patterson was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1979.

Patterson's methods influenced United States business for a generation. In the period 1910-1930 it was estimated[citation needed] that one-sixth of United States business executives were former NCR executives.

Personal life

Patterson is a graduate of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. He was something of a health fanatic, and adopted one regimen after another, most of which were required of his executives and employees.[citation needed] While at Miami, Patterson was a member of Beta Theta Pi.

Patterson lived in his Swiss chalet estate "The Far Hills" in Oakwood, Montgomery County, Ohio. Patterson loved the Adirondacks and built his summer estate on Beaver Lake in New York. His family built two other estates on the lake. All three estates still exist, two as church camps, one as private bed and breakfast.

John Patterson is also renowned as a case book example of an individual who demonstrated a clear need for total control of everything around him. Following is an excerpt from a 2009 article in, declaring Patterson one of the worst (#9) CEO's of all time:[1]

The tyrannical Patterson liked to fire and then rehire executives to break their self-esteem. He banned “harmful” foods—including bread and butter—from company premises and had employees weighed and measured every six months. In 1913, he and 29 NCR officials were convicted of various antitrust violations, including the use of “knockout men” to intimidate store owners and keep them from buying from NCR’s competitors. (The conviction was overturned a year later.) Patterson may be best known for firing Thomas Watson, who went on to build IBM.

Rumors of abusive behavior in his personal life were rife in tabloids of the time, and thus may be exaggerated. One such claim implied he frequently choked women in his personal life, this is now recognized as a common trait in people who have serious control issues. The book The Two-Edged Sword by William H. Hampton and Virginia S. Burnham details Patterson's abusive behavior, suggests a possible mental illness, classified Patterson as a paranoid. There are several other books and psych texts which reference Patterson's behavior and cite him as suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness of some kind. It is perhaps worthy to note that several industrialists of his time were very publicly insane and abusive, leading some to conclude that such abusive and insane behavior may be of some advantage to CEOs of the time.


  1. ^ "Portfolio's Worst American CEOs of All Time". CNBC. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 
  • Hampton and Burnham, William and Virginia (Unknown). The Two-Edged Sword a study of the Paranoid Personality in Action. unknown. 

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