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The Almighty Buck

ATM Turns 40 210

01100111 writes "The world's first ATM was installed in a branch of Barclays in Enfield, north London, 40 years ago this week. Inspiration had struck Mr Shepherd-Barron, now 82, while he was in the bath. The machine paid out a maximum of £10 a time." 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.""
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ATM Turns 40

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  • by EveryNickIsTaken ( 1054794 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @08:45AM (#19634419)
    From Wikipedia: [wikipedia.org] A mechanical cash dispenser was developed and built by Luther George Simjian and installed 1939 in New York City by the City Bank of New York, but removed after 6 months due to the lack of customer acceptance.
    • by LordBafford ( 1087463 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @09:00AM (#19634545) Homepage
      Yes, the first ATM was invented during medieval times, when they had a midget in a box dispensing gold coins when presented with a certificate of ownership. This was short lived due the midgets dieing frequently and some just being carried off in their boxes and robbed.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
        Oh boy, here comes another /. "*WE* invented it first!" pissing contest between the U.S. and Europe. I should bring in my black nationalist friend to chime in with his "It was actually invented by a black man" routine too.
      • Yes, the first ATM was invented during medieval times, when they had a midget in a box dispensing gold coins when presented with a certificate of ownership. This was short lived due the midgets dieing frequently...
        ...and it wasn't until 1935 that Schrodinger worked out why, paving the way for Shepherd-Barron...
      • That's nothing - in the Roman Empire they used monkeys instead of midgets. You had to present via a front-facing slot your request and a certificate of account ownership, each etched onto a small sheet of lead, along with a banana. Your coins would be deposited in the bowl beneath the ATM, if you didn't mind that they were mixed with monkey dung. If nothing came out, the monkey was dead. This was called 'kicking the monkey' and entitled you to a replacement banana from the bank. The one in Pompeii was
        • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
          Well, technological advances are inevitable. The midgets not only were faster, but they produced transactions that were 85% feces free.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        What's in your wallet?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by 228e2 ( 934443 )
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automated_Teller_Mach ine [wikipedia.org] A mechanical cash dispenser was developed and built by Luther George Simjian and installed 1939 in New York City by the City Bank of New York, but removed after 6 months due to the lack of customer acceptance.[1] Thereafter, the history of ATMs paused for over 25 years, until De La Rue developed the first electronic ATM, which was installed first in Enfield Town in North London on 27 June 1967 by Barclays Bank. This instance of the invention is credite
      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
        The Shepherd-Barron design was not much closer to the modern ATM than Simjian's. It was electronic, but it didn't use a teller card or update in real-time like the modern machines. It used a token, which had to be manually collected by the bank.
    • A mechanical cash dispenser was developed and built by Luther George Simjian and installed 1939 in New York City by the City Bank of New York, but removed after 6 months due to the lack of customer acceptance.

      This doesn't tell me much.

      Did you buy tokens and get cash in return?

      This is still in the era of pen and paper and - perhaps in New York - punch-card accounting.

      In 1939 a trip to the bank usually implied a significant transaction - your monthly mortgage payment, for example, or a cash withdrawal to

    • by williamhb ( 758070 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @01:16PM (#19637891) Journal

      From Wikipedia: A mechanical cash dispenser was developed and built by Luther George Simjian and installed 1939 in New York City by the City Bank of New York, but removed after 6 months due to the lack of customer acceptance

      A good example of why not to cite Wikipedia as your source -- I followed your link when I read your comment (1830BST 25June2007), and there was no sign of Simjian or the Bank of New York on the page. But the page did list the invention by John Shepherd-Barron, which is the one you are disputing! I suspect many other readers had a similar experience. So either you were making mischief, in which case you've been found out, or it's changed since you cited in, in which case that'll teach you not to cite a publically editable source!

      • which case that'll teach you not to cite a publically editable source!
        Or, I can choose to not care. I merely pointed out that *technically* the ATM is older than 40 years. You guys can quabble all you want about the US vs. UK argument, but it matters not to me.
  • by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @08:46AM (#19634425) Homepage
    That everyone does their best thinking when they're in the bath.

    Or on the can.
  • by richy freeway ( 623503 ) * on Monday June 25, 2007 @08:49AM (#19634445)
    I would have thought people had been ATM'ing for hundreds of years...
  • Real Innovation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ajehals ( 947354 ) <a.halsall@pirateparty.org.uk> on Monday June 25, 2007 @08:52AM (#19634471) Homepage Journal

    Plastic cards had not been invented, so Mr Shepherd-Barron's machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance.... "I later worked out you would have to eat 136,000 such cheques for it to have any effect on you."
    Interestingly, this was arguably one of those inventions that is, in retrospect unbelievably obvious, it really has changed the world. It leads me to wonder what Mr Shepherd-Barron was paid for his idea, and if any attempts were made to limit the implementation of this innovative machine to a single company...
  • What's wrong with turning 40? huh?!?!

    Yep, I was born the same year. Thanks for the reminder.

    But, I hold on to the adage, "Men look as old as they feel. Women look as old as they are...."

  • by niceone ( 992278 ) * on Monday June 25, 2007 @08:54AM (#19634481) Journal
    I should get out more.
    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )
      Automated Teller Machine. I think it's an Americanism, though... the first people just called it a cash machine.

      I could be totally wrong, though.
      • by Ed Avis ( 5917 )
        Bank of Scotland calls it an 'autoteller', which has the benefit of being just as obscure, but not possible to turn into a TLA.

        Probably a bit redundant to call it an 'automated machine'. Cue complaints about withdrawing '$100 dollars' from the 'ATM machine' using your 'PIN number' etc...
        • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

          Probably a bit redundant to call it an 'automated machine'.
          Nah, sets it apart from the manually operated machines of the past, where you had to keep turning a crank to make it work.
      • In Canada, some banks refer to them as Automatic Banking Machines (ABMs) because the tellers got mad that they were being "automated". My biggest problem is that now that the machines are so prevalent, it's takes forever to see a human. The only people who go see the tellers are the people with something that the machine can't do. This is usually something quite complex which means they speak with the teller for at least 15 minutes. On the other hand, if you're just going to get a couple rolls of quarte
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by thejeffer ( 864748 )
      That's the first thing I thought as well. C'mon, this is slashdot. If it says ATM in the title, we sure as heck better be talking about the network protocol. It's news for NERDS.
  • What protocols do automated teller machines use to communicate with banks? And does anybody have their own schematics for building ATMs? HowStuffWorks has a video that goes inside ATMs [howstuffworks.com] and Wikipedia is informative re: the software aspects [wikipedia.org], but maybe there is more information out there?
    • They used to use SNA (LU 6.2 as I recall, but it's been a long time). That was when most ATM's, at least here in the States, ran OS/2 and talked to Mainframes. Now most of them run embedded CE or other OSes, and I'm not sure if they are still using SNA or have switched to IP.
      • I believe they began switching them to IP; I seem to recall they were doing it using VPN tunnelling over the internet. It raised quite a few "wtf?" style comments.

        They've also used X.25 before now.

    • by jimicus ( 737525 )
      I think it depends on the bank.

      I'd like to believe it's all secured and encrypted thoroughly, and transported over a network with no physical connection to the Internet. However, I've been told (don't know how accurate it is, so take with as much salt as you think it needs) that at least one country's banks have used plain, unsecured telephone lines.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by wwmedia ( 950346 )
      believe it or not all bank of ireland atms use Windows, plenty of times u see the bootup screen or and odd blue screen of death
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by simong ( 32944 )
      A friend worked for Lloyds at the start of the 90s and ATMs were effectively terminals using SNA or X500 pads to mainframes. These days they all seem to use Windows so it's probably all over IP. ATMs in shops can still use ISDN or even good old fashioned modems - it's always a bit disconcerting to hear one dial up.
  • Mmmm, chocolate... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dekortage ( 697532 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @08:59AM (#19634533) Homepage

    I wouldn't mind the service fees so much if it dispensed chocolate bars with my money.

    Anyway, FTA: "Mr Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea when he realised that he could remember his six-figure army number. But he decided to check that with his wife, Caroline. 'Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard,' he laughs." This is a great example of how simple, even mundane decision processes can affect millions, even billions of people. Imagine if he'd stayed with six digits, and people felt it was too hard? Or if he had gone with three, and everyone's account was easily hacked (relatively speaking)?

    • This is the US right? in the UK they tried to introduce them and suffered a serious consumer revolt. I haven't seen one that charges fees for years. In fact, the first bit of text on the screen of almost all UK ATMS is "you will not be charged for this" such was the backlash.
      • by jez9999 ( 618189 )
        I haven't seen one that charges fees for years.

        Try going to any motorway service station, or any ATM inside a convenience (corner) shop.

        And I agree with you, service fees on ATMs are disgusting. Banks make many billions/year, and their greed knows no bounds.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by RMH101 ( 636144 )
          Up until about 5 years ago, some major UK banks charged people to use their cash machines if they weren't a customer of that bank. This, predicatably, ended up with those banks charging right back at the first banks customers. After a few rounds of this, it was decided that it made more sense, and would be more publically acceptable, for *no-one* to charge for their use.

          The ATMs that charge now tend to be owned by 3rd party companies, rather than the banks themselves - they put them in convenience stores

        • by johnw ( 3725 )

          Try going to any motorway service station, or any ATM inside a convenience (corner) shop.

          I had an odd experience on this front recently. I was driving a school minibus and the boys asked to stop to get some fast food. We stopped at a shopping area (not sure what else to call it) on the outskirts of Reading, and the boys rushed to use the cash machines before going for burgers. I stopped to read the notices on the 3 machines (which was more than the boys did). The middle machine of the three had a notice saying, "This machine will not charge", but the other two had much smaller notices sayi

      • This is the US right? in the UK they tried to introduce them and suffered a serious consumer revolt. I haven't seen one that charges fees for years. In fact, the first bit of text on the screen of almost all UK ATMS is "you will not be charged for this" such was the backlash.

        I've used three banks in my years of having bank accounts.

        Wellsfargo, Bank of Kirksville, and USBank.

        Not one of the three charged for use of their ATM's. If I used the ATM of a bank I did not have an account at, there was usually a $1.
      • I understand that The UK banks have an agreement not to charge each other's customers, but there are lots of ATM's not owned by the banks and which do charge. Some of them are owned by companies owned by the banks, which is enough to get around the agreement and which leads to fairly clear-cut commercial decisions when installing ATMs away from bank premises. The ATMs in shops, pubs, motoway service stations, racetracks and so on nearly all charge -- at least, the newer ones do, the ones installed since the
    • Well, most ATM cards i've seen give you 3 tries and then the card is disabled. Even if you only have a 3 digit pin, then you only get .3% chance of getting it right by guessing the pin before the card is disabled.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by fbjon ( 692006 )
        Hah, that reminds me... When I was much younger, I wondered how the heck there could be only 4 digits in the PIN, since that gives only 10 000 combinations, while there are millions of different cards. There's bound to be a collision! Took me a while before I slapped my forehead...
    • "Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard," he laughs.
      So she never memorized a phone number?
      • Not many people in England had phones at the time, so the namespace for phone numbers only required four digits. *please mod flamebait, please mod flamebait*
        • by Ed Avis ( 5917 )
          It's true - I remember when my phone number was three digits long. For those interested, it was 583. However you would have to live in the same village as me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by digitig ( 1056110 )

          Not many people in England had phones at the time, so the namespace for phone numbers only required four digits. *please mod flamebait, please mod flamebait*

          Too close to the truth for flamebait. Although plenty of people had phones, Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD -- another ambiguous TLA!) was very far from widespread, so most calls went through an operator and the "number" would consist of an exchange name and the number on that exchange (my parents' number was "Penketh 5425"; I assume that the "Pennsylvania 65000" system in the USA was similar, although if the Glen Miller Orchestra is to be trusted the USA had bigger exchanges). And yes, the system did put a

  • I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.
    Dammit, I could have had a chocolate bar!
  • by hoojus ( 935220 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @09:03AM (#19634561)

    ...anywhere in the world or the UK
    Wow I always though the english were a bit different :)
    • Written for an American audience perhaps, where America is the world, and ships fall off the edge of US territorial waters.

      Just to underline the fact that the UK isn't quite yet the 51st state.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        Umm. More likely for a British audience. Hale Britannia, where memories of empire die hard.
    • by mike2R ( 721965 )
      Heh,the comic travel writer Bill Bryson says his favourite English newspaper headline was: "Fog in Channel - Continent Cut Off!"
  • replacing chocolate with cash

    And he got that idea when he stopped trying to stay on his wife's good side and go for hookers instead.
  • by MROD ( 101561 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @09:07AM (#19634587) Homepage
    It should be noted that the ATM of that era wasn't quite what we have today.

    Instead of having a card with a magnetic stripe which you would get back after the transaction it was a small, plastic coated punched card which would be swallowed by the machine and then sent back to the account holder afterwards. In other words, it was an emergency "I need £10 of cash" card.

    I remember my Dad having one of these from the National Westminster Bank circa 1972. ATMs didn't really take off until the magnetic stripe cards came out in the late '70s/ early '80s.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by butlerdi ( 705651 )
      I do not remember those cards, and I had one of the first accounts offered by Barclays. I do remember that you could go to multiple branches and get a few quid from each as they did not update in real time. A real help for poor students, until the bank manager caught up with you a few days later...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Ajehals ( 947354 )
      I posted it above - but:

      Plastic cards had not been invented, so Mr Shepherd-Barron's machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance.... "I later worked out you would have to eat 136,000 such cheques for it to have any effect on you."
      Although why you'd want to eat your cheques is beyond me, I just tried eating one and it didn't taste so good, maybe its the lack of Carbon 14 in them these days....
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rkww ( 675767 )
      Yes, I remember being allowed to take my father's punched card to the bank to get out ten pounds for him when I was ten or so, which would have been 1971. And it was ten pounds in pound notes, neatly folded into a plastic holder. He still has some of the holders somewhere and I wouldn't be surprised if he still had a punched card. According to this timeline [fool.co.uk] Lloyds launched an ATM using a magnetic strip card in 1972.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by johnw ( 3725 )
      The Barclays system wasn't quite the same. From Barclays you got six slips of slightly stiff paper - thinner than normal punched cards but thicker than a cheque. They were about the size of a cheque but with some holes in them. Each of them could be exchanged for £10, in a plastic clip.

      The process was as follows:

      You first typed in your six digit PIN. This caused the drawer in the centre of the machine to unlock and open a little.

      Then you pulled open the drawer fully and positioned your slip on som
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by david.given ( 6740 )

      I remember my Dad having one of these from the National Westminster Bank circa 1972. ATMs didn't really take off until the magnetic stripe cards came out in the late '70s/ early '80s.

      My uncle was the project manager at Barclays behind the modern magnetic-stripe ATM project (I don't know if he was involved with these early prototypes). He used to tell all kinds of fascinating stories about trying the herd the vast numbers of people involved into moving in at least approximately in the right direction.

      One

      • Needless to say, and thankfully, the connected-ATM faction won. It seems such an obvious decision these days.
        Not so obvious. Disconnected-ATMs would have been a lot cheaper to deploy. Sure, an engineer would know they were insecure, but a manager would be the one making the decision...
    • The Wendy's Hanburger chain was just opening in town and they had a promotion with the bank I used. Use the ATM and bring in your receipt for a free hamburger. I started transferring $1 from my checking to my savings and back just to get a free burger. Then I discovered that these ATMs used a pressure feed printer rather than a sproket feed one and that if I pulled quickly enough on the receipt as it was being printed, I could get several receipts at once.

      I ate WAY too many burgers during that promo.
  • And I can remember when ATMs took up whole rooms, and only had $1k of cash available! You really had to know your stuff to get anything out of them!
  • by rsmoody ( 791160 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @09:11AM (#19634617) Homepage Journal
    My aunt and Mother were both working at a bank in Houston, TX that got the first ATM in the city (or so the story goes). One was inside the bank working on the internals of the ATM, and the other outside. As the wall was relatively thin, they could talk to each other and work on the problem. Well, after they got done, a customer arrived to use the new and fancy gadget. He began speaking to the ATM and telling it what amount of money he wanted. Always found that story to be funny.
  • demise of cash? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Orp ( 6583 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @09:25AM (#19634761) Homepage
    FTA:

    "Money costs money to transport. I am therefore predicting the demise of cash within three to five years."

    Haven't we heard that before? Like, 20 years ago? Seems that cash is just as prevalent as it always was. I just got back from a vacation to the UK and loved the fact that I could use my debit card to withdraw cash without getting socked with a 3% 'foreign transaction fee' that comes with credit card purchases (rather, there was a $1.50 flat fee from my bank for every withdrawal - so for 200 UKP, or about $400 with today's exchange rate, that's about 0.37%). Along with the fact that *everyone* accepts cash, including that remote pub in Nowhere, Scotland, I don't see cash going away any time soon. Yay cash.

    • The market size of just pre-paid cards exceed 180 Billion dollars.

      Americans hold 2.6 Billion credit cards in their wallets.

      As of June 2007, more than 50.5% americans pay their bills by card.

      Websites like amazon accept only cards, not cash.

      And increasingly, even grocers who typically make sale of items less than $25 have begun to accept contactless cards as means of payment.

      Although none of these will replace cash ever, the incentive for totalitarian governments (like our Cheney-led US) to track even the las
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      I can tell you that cash (here is the U.S. at least) is no longer anywhere near as ubiquitous as it once was. I rarely even carry the stuff anymore (it's basically only useful for toll booths and vending machines). Even fast food restaurants take debit/credit cards now. I go for months at a time without even going to the bank or a teller machine.

      It would have been very hard to live without cash twenty years ago, or even ten. Now it's a given.

      • One thing that really helps in the USA is the relaxed rules for small transactions. Here in the UK, every credit or debit card purchase has to be verified by PIN. Sometimes this is quick, but sometimes the machine can take a while to respond, making cash a lot faster. For small transactions in (some parts of) the USA[1], they just swipe the card and hand it back, making it a lot faster than having to make change for a cash purchase.

        [1] This has only happened to me in Utah, but apparently it happens in

    • I think the problem is that everyone is trying to cash in on non-cash alternatives.

      Imagine if all fees went away, for both seller/buyer. Imagine there was a small little latch on your credit card that would allow payment, but would signal `anonymous' transaction (ie: it would show up as "CASH" in all statements, on both ends---and all other identifying records of it would be erased [by law] after 3 day clearing period).

      Banks could still make money just by the fact of not having to deal with cash and armored
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      As long as there's a war on drugs, cash isn't going anywhere.
    • It seems kind of funny for an ATM to display any kind of error message such as BSOD. You'd think they could program the thing to reboot itself when it encountered such an error. Maybe even just display a nice "this machine is not in service" message. I find it really odd that they would have an ATM display the BSOD, or in the case of that last picture, what looks like a memory dump.
    • by WMD_88 ( 843388 )
      ATMs used to run OS/2 most of the time. Those were the days...I remember after Hurricane Wilma, an ATM down the street came back up before my block did, but it was displaying an error message: http://dognoodle99.cjb.net/bsod/atm.jpg [cjb.net]
      The pic came out blurry, but the text was:

      Windows cannot start because the following file is missing or corrupted:
      c:\windows\system32\hal.dll
      Please re-install a vaild copy of this file.

      No idea why a power outage would cause hal.dll to disappear, but then again...Windows f

  • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Monday June 25, 2007 @10:07AM (#19635291)
    If you visit the island fortress/abbey of Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of France, one of the first things you see inside the gate is a stone wall built circa 1000 CE with an ATM set into it. So they've obviously been around since William the Conqueror...;-)

    rj
  • The first ATM I used was with Rainier Bank in 1978 in Bremerton, WA. It was so unreliable that I had to have a backup plan if I really needed money -- it was no better than a 50/50 shot of getting cash.

    There was only the one machine, of course, and that was long before they were networked so that you could go to another bank's machine. So if you got lucky late at night, you could get the green stuff. Otherwise, it was borrow from a friend.

    I also seem to recall a little plastic cash holder that the money cam
  • I read years ago, I think in scholostic or something, that they called them "bank robots".
    I never found much of that phrase around though.
    Anyone else hear that?
  • So, who owns what might be considered the primary/essential/basic/etc. patent(s) for ATMs? NCR?

    I ask b/c I once worked with an inventor who showed me blueprints and a bona fide patent for what he considered to be (one of?) the first ATM(s).

  • ATM! ATM! There's no place like home, there's no place like home...
  • Inspiration had struck Mr Shepherd-Barron, now 82, while he was in the 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 subtext to the above seems to be that this "invention" was some kind of genius. I disagree; this is an obvious and straightforward usage of technology that would have been "invented" by a hundred other people within the span of a few years had

    • The subtext to the above seems to be that this "invention" was some kind of genius. I disagree; this is an obvious and straightforward usage of technology that would have been "invented" by a hundred other people within the span of a few years had not someone else first done it.

      The ATM like most inventions is both a social and a technical problem. It has to be understood and trusted by the customer, it has to be understood and trusted by the bank.

      The solution to the problem is not a trivial achievement.

  • The ATMS (or ABMs) in North America at least are painfully limited compared the the ATMS in Japan.

    Back in the early 90's even I was able to:

    - Deposit and withdraw any amount down to units of 10 yen. Obviously coins as well as bills.
    - Carry out electronic transfers to any payee at any other bank. (Transferred the down payment on my car to the Toyota dealership this way)
    - Update bank books. (Common now, but it took until 5 years ago for my local ATMs to be able to do this.

    The downside was the ATMs closed at

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