Arcturus banner

Arcturus banner

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Early History of the ATM (Automated Teller Machine)

AKA Cashpoint Machine,ABM (Automatic Banking Machine), Hole-in-the-wall, All-time money (India) and Minibank (Norway)
A proto-type device was invented by John Shepherd-Barron in the 1960s and pioneered by Barclays bank in Enfield, North London, although parallel development of similar devices was happening independently at multiple locations around the world at that time. Plastic cards had not yet been invented, so Mr Shepherd-Barron's machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance. The ATM machine detected it, then matched the cheque against a Pin number.

Like Archimedes, Shepherd-Barron claims to have had his Eureka-moment whilst taking a bath. He also invented a device designed to scare off the seals which were depredating the stock on his Scottish salmon farm. This device used a recording of  Killer Whale noises, but unfortunately it seemed to attract more seals than it deterred. His cash-dispensing machine was fortunately rather more successful, gaining him an OBE in 2005,  marking a significant stage in the development of modern-day banking techniques, and paving the way for networked systems, online bank accounts  and chip & PIN  security technology. The internationally accepted standard of the 4-digit PIN  was also originated by Shepherd-Barron.  Originally he suggested a 6-character format, similar to his old 6-digit Army serial number, but, thankfully for those of us with defective memories, his wife persuaded him that a 4-digit sequence was quite enough for the average person to retain.

In 1967 Reg Varney (of ‘on the Buses’ fame, a TV sitcom popular in Britain in the 1960s) became the first person in the UK to use Shepherd-Barron’s invention, in a publicity stunt for Barclay’s bank. I don’t know how much money Reg  withdrew on that red-letter day, but it would have been a maximum of £10. Back then this was considered more than enough money for a night out on the tiles in London, including drinks, dinner, a show and a taxi-ride home. According to Mr Shepherd-Barron, £10 was more that enough for a ‘wild weekend’. Well, maybe on a salmon farm in Scotland it would have been. It’s too late to ask Reg what he did with his tenner, as sadly he passed away in 2008, aged 92.  John Shepherd-Barron died in May 2010, aged 84.

Moving on into the 1970s, I found this interesting nugget of historical information on the BBC’s ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’ website:
While I was at University between 1971 and 74, National Westminster Bank introduced the '24-hour Cashcard' which allowed you to withdraw £10 (no more, no less) from a hole in the wall. You entered your number, not then called a PIN, I think, and got your money in an envelope; your card was retained. If you used it at the weekend, you had to wait till about Thursday to get your card back, by post.

I suppose in its day it was meant for emergencies; its successors are now probably the predominant means of getting cash as well as a range of other services, not all bank-related (like phone top-ups.)

How did we cope before this technology? Well, we queued at the bank or cashed a cheque at a compliant pub. At least, even with this new plastic card, you still felt that money was real.

Thanks for that, Stareager, whoever and wherever you are.

1975 I went to University in Reading, Berkshire, and opened my first bank account with Lloyds.
I can remember a short period when I had  to go into the bank and write out cheques for ‘Cash’ in order to get my hands on my student grant money, but I am pretty sure that it wasn’t long before I received my very own cashpoint card.  This was a credit-card sized piece of plastic, looking pretty much like any modern-day card, and worked in the same way as the ATM cards we are familiar with today.  I can’t remember what the daily withdrawal limit was, but back then my needs were simple enough for me never to have reached it.  Lloyds Bank was in fact an early adopter of ATM technology, and commissioned the design of the IBM 2984 CIT (Cash Issuing Terminal), the first up-and-running cash point machine. Cashpoint is still a registered trademark of Lloyds TSB in the UK.

The inimitable Shepherd-Barron continued to take a lively interest in technology well into his old age, and predicted that the development of contactless technology was likely to bring about the demise of cash  within the next couple of years.  So his famous invention may now be in its last days. With the rise and rise of the mobile phone as an increasingly multi-functional device, it looks like the glory days of the plastic card are also numbered .

No comments:

Post a Comment