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The Complete History of the First ATM/Cash Machine

ATM_Cash Machine

The Complete History of the First ATM/Cash Machine

Key Points:

  • ATM cash machines have revolutionized how people access their money. Rather than having to go to a bank during regular hours, the ATM allowed people to access their money at any time.
  • The first ATM cash machine was installed in 1967 by Barclays Bank in North London. It was created by John Shepherd-Barron and his team. Barron had been frustrated that he couldn’t cash his checks after the banks closed (which was often the only time he was free to do so). Inspired by the idea of chocolate vending machines, Barron came up with a plan to create a machine that dispensed cash instead of chocolate.
  • Within a year or two of the first ATM in Europe, Donald Wetzel helped to create cash machines for people in the United States. The first U.S. ATM was placed in New York in 1969. Although the bank worried that the public wouldn’t trust the new cash machines, people instantly adapted to the new, convenient way of accessing their money.

The first ATM (Automated Teller Machine) cash machine was invented by John Shepherd-Barron, a Scottish engineer who wanted to create a self-service machine for customers to withdraw cash outside of banking hours. ATM cash machines are commonly found in banks, convenience stores, and other public places. They provide a convenient and easy way for people to withdraw cash from their bank accounts or perform various banking transactions.

Businessman using card at an ATM
Today, there are 3.2 million automated teller machines (ATMs) globally.

Image: Una Shimpraga, Shutterstock

The First ATM/Cash Machine History

While there has been some debate, John Shepherd-Barron and his team are credited with developing the first automated teller machine (ATM). It debuted to the public on June 27, 1967, in North London. The English actor and comedian, Reg Varney, was the first person to use the new machine. Barron developed the automated cash dispenser out of frustration of not being able to cash his checks after the banks closed. John got the idea from chocolate vending machines. He worked with banknote manufacturer De La Rue to create the first six automated cash dispenser machines. They would later create an additional 50 automated teller machines.

Quick Facts

Created
June 27, 1967
Creator
John Shepherd-Barron
Original Use
Allows customers to perform a variety of banking transactions
Cost
N/A

Known as the Barclays–De La Rue machine (or DACS for short), this first cash machine beat out two other competitors by just nine days: Metior’s machine and the Swedish saving banks. A month later, another machine was unveiled to the market, called the Westminster Bank’s-Smith Industries-Chubb system, or Chubb MD2 for short.

The automated cash dispenser machines had similar features to the cash machines that we use today. This includes a PIN to verify an individual’s identity. Mr. Barron originally designed the cash dispenser to operate using a six-digit personal identification number. He would later reduce the PIN to four digits because his wife felt it would be easier to remember. The original use of the automated teller machine was to dispense money. The original machine cash dispenser machines were never patented by John or De La Rue. John felt a patent would disclose to criminals how the machines worked.

After seeing the ATM machines in Europe, Donald Wetzel decided it was time to bring the idea to the United States. Working for a company called Docutel, Wetzel created the first U.S. ATM, which was placed at one of Chemical Bank’s New York branches in 1969. The bank was concerned that people would reject the idea of a cash machine that handled their money and saw such an expense as a big risk. However, the public quickly accepted the new machines and people were even willing to pay a small fee to use them.

 John Shepherd-Barron (pictured third from the left) is credited with developing the first automated teller machine (ATM).
John Shepherd-Barron (pictured third from the left) is credited with developing the first automated teller machine (ATM).

The First ATM/Cash Machine: How it Worked

The first automated teller machine used carbon 14 impregnated checks instead of plastic cards to initiate the transaction. Carbon 14 is a substance that is mildly radioactive. To start the transaction, a unique personal check was inserted into an automated cash dispenser. The machine would then detect the check and match it to an individual’s PIN. If everything matched, your money would be dispensed. The automated teller machine could dispense a maximum of GBP10 per transaction.

A young girl using a modern ATM to withdraw money.
A young woman using a modern ATM to withdraw money.

The First ATM/Cash Machine: Historical Significance

The first cash dispenser paved the way for the card and four-digit personal identification number that we use today with ATMs. It was pivotal in changing the way that financial institutions and customers interacted. Because of this invention, customers can now use their cards to perform a wide variety of transactions at the automated teller machine.

The first automated teller machines began to gain popularity in the late 1960s and the 1970s. This popularity continued to grow every year since. This led to vast improvements in physical design, features, and security. There are currently over 3.5 million automated cash machines worldwide.

Fun Facts About the First ATM/Cash Machine:

  • English actor Reg Varney was the first person to use the cash machine.
  • The first automated teller machine was turned into gold on its fiftieth anniversary.
  • It used a personal identification number to dispense money.

Next Up…

Frequently Asked Questions

When was the first ATM cash machine made?

The first machine was made on June 27, 1967.

Who invented the ATM cash machine?

The ATM cash machine was invented by John Shepherd-Barron.

What was the first ATM called?

The De La Rue Automatic Cash System (DACS).

Where was the first ATM?

Enfield, North London.

Which bank installed the first ATM machine in the United States?

Chemical Bank

What did the first ATM look like?

The first ATM had a large steel body and an overall clunky design. It had slots to accept checks and to dispense money. It had a very basic and functional look.

How did the first ATM work?

The first ATM worked by inserting a unique carbon 14 infused check into the machine to start the transaction. The ATM would then verify the check against the customer’s PIN before dispensing the money. The ATM could only dispense money.

When did ATMs become popular?

Beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s.

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