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Cash Machine turns 50

The cash machine celebrates its 50th birthday today

The “hole in the wall” remaining a popular way for people to manage their day-to-day money half a century after it first appeared, initially in the UK.

The world’s first automated teller machine (ATM) was unveiled by Barclays at its Enfield branch in north London on June 27th 1967, a blue plaque marks the historic spot.  A new report estimates more than 3,650,000 machines worldwide.

In 1967, English actor Reg Varney was the first customer to withdraw cash from Shepherd-Barron’s brainchild, known as DACS, short for De La Rue Automatic Cash System.

But Varney didn’t do it with any sort of plastic card. The DACS machine used checks “impregnated” with carbon-14, a mildly radioactive substance. 

The machine detected the carbon-14 and then matched the check against a PIN. 

How the first ATMs worked

In the days before people’s wallets were stuffed with plastic cards to make payments and withdraw cash, the process used for taking money from a cash machine would have been quite different to the way it works today.

Here are the steps that customers would have taken to withdraw cash when the ATM was first introduced, according to Barclays:

  • Customers could withdraw £10 in cash in exchange for a special voucher.

  • This voucher was processed as a cheque and the money was taken from the customer’s account.

  • The customer would sign the voucher and place it in the ATM drawer, where it was tested for authenticity.

  • An illuminated panel would then ask the customer to input their personal six-figure code.

  • The machine checked the code and if everything was in order the machine would then dispense the #10 in cash from another drawer.

  • The vouchers issued were valid for six months. They were only issued to approved customers, each of whom was given a six-digit code, known only to the customer and the branch manager.

Collectively, the worldwide family of ATMs has revolutionized banking, giving us around-the-clock access to money via ATM, debit and credit cards without interacting with a human.

British investor, John Shepherd-Barron, is generally credited with devising the first cash-dispensing machine, the one installed 50 years ago. , 

who died in 2010, said he came up with the concept while taking a bath.

“It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the U.K. I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”

However, Don Wetzel, an executive at Docutel, a Dallas company that made automated baggage-handling equipment, is generally regarded as the father of the modern ATM. 

The ATM installed at Chemical Bank in 1969 was the first to rely on a plastic card, instead of an “impregnated” check, for transactions.

The machine, known as the Docuteller, “marked the first time reusable, magnetically coded cards were used to withdraw cash,” according to Wired. 

Two years later, in 1971, the Total Teller came along. That machine allowed a customer to deposit money, check an account balance and transfer money between accounts.

As a tribute to the golden anniversary of the very first one, Barclays has transformed the modern-day Enfield cash machine into gold.


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