• The Story Behind - ATMs

By Knowledge Tribe

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In this age of shortcuts and modern machinery, it is safe to say that most of us know what ATMs are. Automated Teller Machines. Genies that spit out money. From our own accounts, of course, but magical, nonetheless. That thrill of money being counted and the slot opening and presenting you with crisp notes…what happiness! I think by now you may have realised where we are going with this…yes, today we take you through the history of ATMs.

In 1961, a bankograph was set up at New York’s first National Bank. Through this device, customers could pay bills without the help of a teller. This was not exactly an ATM, but one-way money transaction was made possible through it, making it the precursor to ATMs. In 1966, British inventor James Goodfellow, who was working at Smiths Group, devised the idea of a Personal Identification Number or a PIN and filed a patent for the same.

Image:James Goodfellow, the man behind ATM PINs. Image source:toppr.com

A year later, the world’s first money dispenser debuted at Barclays Bank in London. John Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea of creating a cash-vending machine. Soon, he created a device for the bank, with a maximum withdrawal of £10. This device used paper cheques issued by the bank, to dispense money to the user. Nine days after Barclays, Swedish bank Nixdorf introduced its first ATM, which it termed a ‘Bankautomat’. A month after Barclays, Westminster Bank installed its first ATM.

Image:The world’s first money dispenser at Barclays Bank, London Image source:guinnessworldrecords.com

By 1968, ATMs had debuted in the USA and most ATMs were running on PINs. Many banks introduced a machine that encoded cash on plastic cards that were purchased from a bank teller. The drawback of this was that, every time you wanted to carry out a transaction, you would have to purchase a new card. But this was about to change. The year 1969 saw the advent of magstripe cards, which were magnetically coded plastic cards created by the American firm Docutel. Donald Wetzel is credited with this creation. In the coming years, Docutel took over the ATM banking world.

Image:The first magstripe card by Docutel Image source:wikiwand.com

In 1971, Docutel’s Total Teller became the first fully-functioning ATM. The machine could take deposits, transfer money, give out money and perform many such functions. The number of ATMs started rising across the world. By 1973, there were nearly 2000 ATMs across the USA and by 1974, a bunch of offline and online ATMs called TABS 550 were set up, which were flexible and easier to use, thus becoming in demand.

Image:Docutel’s Total Teller Image source:historythings.com

In 1978, the first IBM-compatible machine was installed at a bank in Indianapolis. By 1984, we had the IBM 2984 used at Lloyds Bank; these machines were all online and issued money, also immediately deducting the same from the respective bank account. By the end of that year, there were nearly 1 lakh ATMs around the globe. Today, we live in a world with more than 3 million ATMs installed. It’s no wonder that we see one around the corner of every street!

With this, we have the story behind one of the most modern inventions of our time. People seldom use ATMs these days, as they prefer online transactions over the hassle of running and withdrawing money. In India, let’s just say that demonetisation probably gave us some really horrid memories of ATMs. Nevertheless, they are devices that we just cannot live without. Here’s to hoping for ATM kiosks without queues, and sufficient funds in our accounts.

Is there any other invention or creation whose story you would like to read? Do write to us! Watch this space for more of The Story Behind a whole bunch of cool things.


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