Jaap's Mechanical Calculators Page

Benton Tally Register

Benton Tally Register

3-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
Advertisements and Articles

3-digit Benton Tally Register

This is a 3-digit hand tally register. It is round, just under 6 cm in diameter, with a small round window in its centre in which the counter can be seen. It sits comfortably in the hand, and there is normally a ring attached to the back in which you can insert your index or ring finger for a more secure hold. Pressing the button on the side with the thumb or index finger increments the counter. On the back there are two small knobs with which the tens and the hundreds digits can be set to zero. To clear the counter, turn the one knob to set the hundreds digit to 9, then the other knob to set the tens digit to 9, and finally press the button until the counter rolls over from 999 to 000.

Benton Tally Register
Benton Tally Register
Benton Tally Register, rear
Benton Tally Register, side

Its mechanism is very simple. The three number wheels are placed such that the outer two overlap the middle one, so that the three digits that will form the register are directly next to each other. The middle number wheel turns in the opposite direction to the others so that carry can be performed directly between the wheels. The units and tens wheels both have a small arm that interacts with a gear on the next wheel to push it one step forward. All the wheels have a spring mechanism that clicks them into the correct alignment.

Benton Tally Register
Benton Tally Register
Benton Tally Register
Benton Tally Register
Benton Tally Register

4-digit Benton Tally Register

This is the 4-digit version of the Benton tally register. It is almost the same as the 3-digit version, except that above the rectangular opening showing the main 3 digits there is a small round opening with the fourth digit. When resetting the counter to zero, the first knob has to be turned until not only the hundreds digit is 9, but also the small thousands digit. Then the other knob is used to set the tens digit to 9, and finally press the button until the counter rolls over from 9999 to 0000.

4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register

The main mechanism is identical to the 3-digit version. The fourth digit is supplied by a thin number wheel attached to the front plate.

4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register
4-digit Benton Tally Register



These tally registers were first made by the Benton Manufacturing Company, New York, from at least as early as 1879. The company was founded by John Barnaby Benton in 1874. I have not found the patent for the tally register, but John B. Benton has many patents for other devices with counters (passenger registers, fare registers, ballot boxes, etc.). Until the late 1880s, most of John Benton's patents were assigned to the Railway Register Manufacturing Company. It is not clear what the relationship was. It would not be surprising if the tally register was also originally produced with the railway in mind, as they were extensively used there. They were often called pole counters.

In the early 1880s the company made the "Excelsior" cyclometer, a device that measures the distance a bicycle travels, which seems to have been highly prized for its accuracy. It should be noted that in this context the company was often referred to as E. B. Benton Mfg Co., but it is unclear if E. B. Benton was a real person. It was not uncommon for companies to use different addressees in different advertisements, so that incoming mail could more easily be sorted according to the product involved, and the initials E.B. could therefore be fictional.

The company must have had a good reputation for manufacturing experimental devices, as Thomas Edison had them make the Talking Machines (a.k.a. Phonographs) that he exhibited at the 1889 Paris convention.

In around 1897 James O. Benton took over the running of the company, and he was probably John Benton's son. The Benton Company made the tally register for many years, apparently without any material changes in design. From 1907 a more expensive 4-digit version was made as well, which had the 4th digit visible in a small hole above the middle digit of the main counter. In the first World War, the US Army placed a very large order for tally registers. At some point after 1917 production/sales was taken over by the Tally Register Co., New York. According to the packaging of their tally counters they had an exclusive license from Benton to produce both versions, and they did so until the 1960s and possibly 70s. It is possible that the production lines set up to fulfill the Army's order were spun off to become the Tally Register Co., leaving the Benton Company free to do more specialized and interesting productions. The Benton Manufacturing Company seems to have remained a family business, as I was told by a descendant that Benton Benjamin Kendig (grandson of John B. Benton through his daughter Fannie May Benton) became secretary and treasurer of the company, and his younger brother Thomas Hart Kendig eventually bought the company and ran it for decades.

My 3-digit tally counter has no serial number, and no indication of a brand name or manufacturing company, and came without its box. I am therefore not sure which company made it, nor when it was made during the long production run. While the oldest counters have Benton Mfg. Co. engraved or stamped on them, it seems that Benton also made unmarked ones for resale. Later counters by Tally sometimes had the company name moulded on the back plate, but not always. One way to date it may be the fonts used for the digits, but this is tricky too, as the wheels of my 3-digit tally register all use a different type. This suggests it was manufactured in a hurry, and that it could be from that US Army order in WW1.

Advertisements and Articles

Here are various advertisements and catalogue listings of this tally register that I found in online archives.

1879-04-03 The Iron Age
1881-01-01 The Wheel
1881-01-30 Daily Journal (Evansville Indiana)
1881-10-12 The Wheel
1881-12-07 The Wheel
1882-03-29 The Wheel
1883-01-14 Daily Journal (Evansville Indiana)2
1884 Wright & Ditson Catalogue
1884-07-11 St Louis Globe Democrat (Missouri)
1889-09-14 The Breeder and Sportsman
1897 Western Electric - Electric Light Suppy Catalog
1897-07 Monthly Bulletin of the Bureau of American Republics
1898 Rice Lewis & Son Illustrated catalogue of general hardware
1899 Central Electric Company General Catalogue
1901 Caverhill Learmont and Co Hardware Catalogue 1901
1902-04 Manual of Principal Instruments Used In Engineeering
1903 Sears-Roebuck
1904 Keuffel and Esser Co Forest Work
1906-06-09 Hardware and Metal
1907 Kolesch Co Catalogue
1908 Eugene Dietzgen Co Catalogue
1908 Western Electric Catalogue of Telephonic Apparatus
1910 Chambers Brick Machinery Catalog 21
1912 Eugene Dietzgen Co Catalogue
1913 Technical Supply Company Catalog
1914 Frost Adams Co. Catalogue
1915-01-15 Annual report of the Board of Control of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station
1916 Western Electric Supply Year Book
1917 Geo B Carpenter & Co Catalogue
1918 The C.f. Pease Company Catalog
1918 Western Electric Supply Year Book
1919 The A. Lietzs Company Catalogue
1920-07-29 Honolulu Star Bulletin (Hawaii)
1921-01 Keuffel & Esser Catalog - Drafting Reproduction
1921-01 Office Appliances
1923-01 F. Weber Co - Drawing Materials Catalog
1925 B.k. Elliot Co Catalog
1926 Keuffel and Esser Catalogue of Measuring Tapes
1928 The C.f. Pease Company Catalog
1928-09-20 The Queenslander (Brisbane)
1936 Keuffel & Esser Catalog - Drafting Reproduction
1938-01 The A. Lietz Company Catalogue
1948 B.k. Elliot Co Catalog
1949 Keuffel & Esser Catalog - Drafting Reproduction
1963 Educational Supplies and Equipment - Keuffel & Esser

Here are a few articles related to the Benton Manufacturing Company and the tally register, including John B. Benton's obituaries.

1879-01-30 Evening Star (Washington DC)
1881-02-11 Daily Journal (Evansville Indiana)
1883-01-14 Daily Journal (Evansville Indiana)
1884-05-09 The Wheel
1887 Ten Thousand Miles - Karl Kron
1890-03 Trow's New York copartnership and corporation directory
1898-08-11 The Valentine Democrat (Nebraska)
1901-07-06 Western Electrician
1905-09-23 Street Railway Journal
1908-05-09 Atlantic Review (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
1918 America's Munitions 1917-18
1918-11 Pacific Marine Review
1920-11-07 NYTimes
1920-11-07 New York Herald Sun (New York)


I have not found any original patent for the Benton Tally Register, though there are many patents by John B. Benton for other kinds of registers. There is however one later patent describing a modification of it. This patent has drawings of the mechanism of the Benton Tally Register, but just describes it as the "conventional flat type tally register" and has no reference to an original patent.

PatentFiling datePriority dateNameDescription
US 162,71720-02-187527-04-1875Hamilton B. Towle & John B. BentonPassenger register
US 167,05718-03-187524-08-1875John B. BentonPassenger register
US 168,19510-06-187528-09-1875Hamilton E. TowleBell punch
US 213,49205-02-187925-03-1879John B. BentonLiquor register
US 225,04405-01-188002-03-1890John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 227,20626-02-188004-05-1880John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 229,66212-02-187906-07-1880John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 230,16921-01-188020-07-1880John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 234,74212-08-188023-11-1880John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 235,40707-11-187814-12-1880John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 235,49809-07-188014-12-1880John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 252,41722-08-188117-01-1882John B. BentonFare register
US 260,52631-10-188104-07-1882John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register
US 327,64512-02-188506-10-1885John B. Benton (Standard Cancelling Ballot Box Company)Ballot box
US 511,32202-11-188926-12-1893John B. Benton (National Cash Register Company)Register and Calculator
US 547,98124-02-189415-10-1895John B. BentonCash Register
USD 24,75516-10-189415-10-1895John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)Fare register face-plate
US 552,46323-08-189531-12-1895John B. Benton & Edward B. Hess (Metropolitan Register Company)Cash Register
US 1,027,61314-03-190728-05-1912Robert E. Kimball (Tickometer Company)Ticket counting machine
US 2,812,90817-02-195412-11-1954George F. FoxTally Register


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