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First Cash Machine
James Goodfellow (b. 1937), John Shepherd-Barron (1925–2010), Donald Wetzel (b. 1921), Luther George Simjian (1905–1997)
There was no one inventor of the automated teller machine (ATM), although there have been plenty of people who have tried to lay claim to it. Rather, it was the result of a series of innovations by multiple people over years, leading to the pivotal 1967 unveiling of two competing but different machines in the UK that were introduced within a month of each other.
James Goodfellow’s machine, introduced by Westminster Bank in London, used a plastic card and a personal identification number (PIN) for customer verification and access. The John Shepherd-Barron machine, introduced by Barclays, used mildly radioactive checks infused with carbon-14 that the ATM relied on to match against a customer’s identification number. While Shepherd-Barron’s machine beat Goodfellow’s to market by a month (and thus received much of the “first-of” glory), it was Goodfellow’s PIN design that stuck and ended up seeing mass commercialization and licensing by manufacturers. He also had the first patent for an ATM that used a PIN for authentication.
In the United States, the ATM was pioneered by Donald Wetzel, who worked for a technology company called Docutel. The first US ATM was installed by Chemical Bank at its Rockville Centre, New York, branch in 1969. The bank’s advertisement for its new darling read, “On September 2, our bank will open at 9:00 and never close again.”
As the computer technologies that constituted the ATM and the customer features it offered evolved—magnetic stripes, improved security, free-standing machines, the ability to accept deposits as well as dole out cash, and so on—the definition of what exactly defined an ATM frequently depended on who was making the claim, especially for people claiming to be “first.” For example, in 1939, the Armenian American Luther George Simjian had an idea for a hole-in-the-wall machine that would enable financial transactions. He would eventually create the Bankograph, which let people make utility-bill payments and get receipts. Sadly, the Bankograph was a failure. “It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn’t want to deal with tellers face to face,” wrote Simjian in his autobiography.
SEE ALSO Data Encryption Standard (1974), Digital Money (1990), Bitcoin (2008)
British actor Reg Varney poses at the unveiling of the world’s first ATM at Barclays Bank in Enfield, Middlesex, just north of London, on June 21, 1967.