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Author Topic: NCR 420 Optical Reader and National Optical Font  (Read 28845 times)
Posts: 1

« on: August 28, 2006, 06:43:50 pm »

Thanks for this most interesting site! I have some questions regarding the 420 optical  reader and the font which was designed for the reader. Generally, I would like to know when the reader and font were introduced. I have many National cash register manuals, brochures and sales items, and this particular device is only discussed in the latest of my technical reference manuals for the class 5 register (1967). I also found in one of your links (for the 310 computer) a price list for the computer and peripherals from 1964 which listed the 420-1 (it was more expensive than the computer itself!). None of my other manuals, even the ones for the other registers that could be fitted to print NOF listings, contains any information on it. I'd be most grateful for any help with my search.
Aleksandrs Guba
Jr. Member
Posts: 83

« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2006, 08:26:32 am »

I am afraid I'm not be of much help regarding NCR 420 Optical Reader as my practical experiense in that field is quite limited. But it's my pleasure to propose you to use possibilities of the Forum to obtain what you are looking for (you may use "I'm looking for ..." Board of the Forum for that).
Posts: 2

« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2006, 06:31:30 am »

I remember demonstrating one of these units at a Business Efficiency Exhibition in 1964 in Manchester, England. I think the 420 was introduced earlier than that, but not that many years earlier--perhaps 1962/1963?

Andy Johnson-Laird
Forensic Software Analyst
Portland, Oregon, USA.
Posts: 4

« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2006, 11:41:34 am »

I cannot remember when the 420 was introduced but I remember 1 420 being install at the NCR Data Centre connected to a 10K slab 315.†

The 420 would read tapes from a calss 410 (I think) and Class 51 cash resgister.† The 420 was 'programmed' by a plug board that basically directed fields and codes to be sent to the 315.

Damaged tapes, too light or too dark print on the tapes resulted in having to manually entery the line in via a keyboard or in earlier models of the 420 a electromechanical register (sorry can't remeber the model of the till, could have been a class 51).

I do remember developing a 'back ground' program that enabled the 420 to read NOF tapes while other programs were being run, we had the program postion itself near the top end of memory just before the kernel, (address 9426).† My first mutli task program, all writing in machine code and punched onto 80 column Holerith punched cards. The resident program ewas less that 160 slabs (12 bit word).

Give me a few days and I'll remember more about this wonderful peripheral.

Lee Labs
Posts: 4

« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2006, 10:42:32 pm »

Best Apparel in Seattle, before it was bought by Nordstromís (a shoe store at the time) used NCR 52 cash registers with OCR font.  They had a 420 that was used to read the cash register tapes.  The 52s required good maintenance to maintain the print quality.  After Nordstrom took over they used some of the 52s in their shoe store located on the same street in down town Seattle for a short time and then went to 280 POS terminals.  Best Apparel was the roots for the Nordstromís of today. 
Posts: 14

« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2007, 08:36:38 am »

The 420 and Optical Font were introduced in 1962.
I have put a picture of the 420 on the NCR UK Retirement fellowship website at ( from NCR Achievements 1962)

Andy :- The Exhibition you were at was reported in the NCR Post of November 1964. I have put a copy of the relevent page at the above location. You may be on one of the photos!
Herb Fish
Posts: 32

« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2008, 10:51:54 am »

I remember the 420 OCR scanner quite well.  I received training on it at the NCR education center in Denver, Colorado in February 1967.  It was a ten week class.  We were trained to service the 420-1 and the 420-2.  It was a very memorable experience for me.  I learned to ski while there with a classmate from Beirut, Lebanon.  His name was Monsur J. Nassar.  We skied together almost every weekend by taking the ski train from downtown Denver through the Moffett tunnel to Winter Park.  Another classmate from Zurich, Switzerland (I have since forgotten his name), would not ski.  Go figure.  We also spent a lot of time on the weekends exploring abandoned gold mines.  We bought hand picks and lanterns to take into the mines.  Looking back, it's just luck that we didn't kill ourselves with the chances that we took.  Near the end of the ten weeks I went along with another classmate to check out the new Mustangs at the local Ford dealer (Goodro Ford?).  He just looked, while I drove out with a 390GT fastback.  Like I was a very memorable class.

As for the 420, it was a very complex machine, and difficult to maintain.  If the NOF ink was bad or out of registration, the 420 wouldn't read it and the operator had to manually enter the data.  And that was just for starters.  It had a very sensitive imaging system; if any one of a host of specifications got out of adjustment, it might as well have been a boat anchor...

I was a service man in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the time.  When I returned home from the class I installed a 420-2 connected to 739 magnetic tape encoder at a regional center of Volkswagen of America.  They had several OCR adding machines in their accounting office.  The system would output 8 bit EBCDIC magnetic tapes which were then read by their IBM 360 computer system.  It worked quite well after we got the bugs out, and they turned out to be a very satisfied customer.

Another old war story...

Herb Fish
n8eyh with OCD-WM42 of Hilse
Jr. Member
Posts: 60

« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2008, 04:53:24 pm »

Hi! all,

 I remember my experience to get the interview of the personnel manager at the headoffice of NCR Japan in July, 1968.

He asked my understanding related to the feasibility of the NCR OCR font for the pattern recognition.
Because I had just started to study the availability of the pattern recognition for printed Kanji characters on the news paper at the university with the ALGOL based program in the computer of 16K bytes memory.
I remember the pattern analyzing needed several hours to find the characteristic of the font,
even though the automatic scanning and sorting system of the ZIP based letters and post cards in Japan
had started the services since July 1, 1968.

I answered to his question by introducing the future advantage of my research of Kanji character recognition more than the numerical pattern recognition like NCR OCR font.
He was angry to my explain, and he suggested me another job at the different research office.
Then I tried to collect his misunderstanding to my speach, of course.
Walking along the street near the US embassy of Tokyo after the test interview, I regretted my answer and was feeling the fail of job in NCR Japan.
.........few hours later
Fortunately I had received a telegram of my pass from NCR Japan.

In next April, as a fresh person, I was very exited by the speed to read the OCR printed paper on the 420 unit with the very high speed under the NCR 315 computer. Then I felt the greatness of NCR computer.
Because the printer of our university printed a line per second in 1968, although NCR Century line printer used to print several thousand lines per second in 1969, I believe.

Best regards,

Katsuhiko Hirai
Fan of the Century architecture under 63 index registers.
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