The Atm Is Half A Century Old

Bank closing hours, as we know, can cause unpleasant unexpected events. In 1965, John Shepherd-Barron, a Scottish engineer who worked at the printery “De La Rue” (specialized in printing stamps and banknotes), arrived “a minute too late” at the shop of his branch, finding it already closed.

Having failed to withdraw the cash, he had to give up the shopping for the weekend. But he could not imagine that that series of personal events would change the banking world and our daily habits forever.

A successful idea. Shepherd-Barron, disappointed by the inconvenience, went into the streets of London and tried to console himself with a chocolate bar bought, with the few change left in his pocket, from a vending machine…

How could it be, he thought, that almost anything could be bought from those distributors, but could it not be possible to withdraw money? The following Monday he went to the bank and stopped to expose his idea to the director. The interview ended with the commission of an automated teller machine (ATM) prototype.

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Two years later, on June 27, 1967, the first ATM in history was activated at the Enfield branch of Barclays Bank in London. Two days later, one was activated in Uppsala, Sweden (the name “Bankomat” used in Sweden was the most widespread in European countries). And a couple of weeks later, another was inaugurated in London, at Westminster Bank. In a short time, an idea born by chance revolutionized the banks and the lives of their customers.

The previous one. That was not the first machine for the automation of some bank operations. A few years earlier, in 1960, Luther George Simjian had installed the Bankograph in a New York bank: a cash deposit and cheque machine that, as a receipt, released the photographs of the deposit.

Other banks in Sweden and Japan were also developing similar ideas during the same period. At first, there were difficulties, between “technical problems” and safety systems in the embryonic phase. Despite the difficulties, the trade union demands for the banking department were the main drivers of the investment towards automation, which demanded the closure of branches on Saturday. This prompted banks to invest in an innovation that promised to reduce staff costs and meet new customer needs.

The magnetic card. Two years later, the first real ATM card in 1969 came also magnetic cards, similar to those we still use today. The ATM designed by Shepherd-Barron was very different from the ones we know: to withdraw it was necessary to use a special check and a PIN code established by the customer.

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