It wasn’t so long ago that people had to go inside the bank in order to withdraw money. And if the bank wasn’t open, which was often the case, you were up a creek without a twenty. Of course, ATMs changed all that. I stumbled upon an old question on Yahoo! Answers that sought information on the inventor of the cash machine. Here’s what I learned…
I suspected the ATM was created during the ’80s, but according to an article from the BBC, the modern ATM was actually invented back in the ’60s by a Briton named John Shepherd-Barron. Mr. Shepherd-Barron was apparently inspired while taking a bath. “It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK. I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”
The machine predated plastic cards, so in order to withdraw cash, customers had to use checks “that were impregnated with carbon 14.” The maximum withdrawal was a modest £10, and the first ATMs had their share of problems. Still the banks took to them right away. Eventually so did their customers.
The BBC goes on to note that the first ATM was also responsible for another invention that we all use about 100 times every day: the four digit PIN. Mr. Shepherd-Barron’s wife convinced him that most people could only remember a four digit number, so that became the industry standard (he originally wanted a six-digit PIN).
ATM Marketplace hosts a copy of a speech Mr. Shepherd-Barron gave, in which he describes the process of inventing the cash dispenser. You can also listen to an NPR interview with the famed inventor here.
Today, there are about 1.6 million ATMs worldwide. But it all started with a guy who simply wanted to access his cash as easily as he could a chocolate bar. Pretty cool, huh?
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