Dawn of the ATM

Sept. 2, 2022
by Mark Ollig

ATM is an acronym for asynchronous transfer mode, a protocol or set of rules used by a communication system to transmit voice, video, and data over a network.

However, today, I will write about this acronym used for an automated teller machine.

The technology used with an ATM includes digital computing to perform automated banking transactions using plastic debit/credit or smart cards.

Smart cards, aka chip cards, store information on an EMV (Europay Mastercard Visa) computing memory chip rather than the magnetic stripe found on older cards.

Their information can also be retrieved on electronic devices using wireless near-field communication (NFC) protocols.

On Sept. 2, 1969, the first US ATM called a Docuteller appeared in the Chemical Bank at North Village Avenue in Rockville Centre, NY.

The Docuteller was installed on the bank’s wall and allowed checking account customers to receive cash by inserting their plastic bank cards with an affixed magnetic stripe containing coded customer account data.

Don Wetzel was an executive with Docutel, a company that developed automated baggage-handling equipment in Dallas, TX.

Wetzel came up with the idea for an automated cash machine in 1968 while waiting in a bank teller line to cash a check, which, for those in my age group, will remember to be, at times, a long wait.

The Chemical Bank ATM could only give out cash, but in 1971, a new ATM that could handle multiple functions, including providing customers’ account balances, was installed.

The patent for the first US ATM was filed on July 29, 1970, and on Sept. 25, 1973, US Patent 3,761,682 titled CREDIT CARD AUTOMATIC CURRENCY DISPENSER was awarded to Don C. Wetzel and two others.

The patent’s description begins with, “A currency dispenser automatically delivers a medium of exchange in packets in response to a coded credit card presented thereto. The coded credit card is presented to the currency dispenser, and an initial check is made to determine if the card has the proper format.”

“The cash drawer opens to a detent position which allows the customer to move the drawer to a fully open position to remove his currency. Upon release of the cash drawer, it returns to a partially opened position from which it automatically closes after a preset time limit,” the wording in the patent described.

The Chemical Bank ATM internal circuitry contained digital electronic components, including decision-making logic gates, integrated circuits, and mechanical functionality.

The dawn of the ATM began in 1967 from across the pond by our British friends.

Fifty-five years ago, Barclays Bank installed the world’s first ATM cash machine in the borough of Enfield in North London, England.

John Shepherd-Barron is credited with inventing the first ATM for dispensing cash.

He was Managing Director at the British banknote manufacturer De La Rue and found himself unable to cash his checks after his bank closed on a Saturday morning.

“It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK. So I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash,” Shepherd-Barron said in a 2007 BBC interview.

In 1967, plastic bank cards hadn’t been invented, so Shepherd-Barron’s machine processed special paper vouchers for up to 10 quid (pound sterling).

These paper vouchers contained carbon-14, a slightly radioactive substance the ATM could detect.

After inserting the paper voucher, a customer entered a four-digit PIN (personal identification number).

Shepherd-Barron originally was going to use a six-digit PIN; however, his wife said she had trouble remembering that many digits.

 Four digits have become the standard ATM PIN length worldwide.

Sir Thomas Bland, deputy chairman of Barclays Bank, pulled back a black velvet curtain and revealed to the public its automated cash dispensing machine with the name  BARCLAYCASH on June 27, 1967.

English actor Reginald Alfred Varney was the first to withdraw money from the automated cash dispensing machine in the amount of ten quid, equivalent to 171 quid (about 200 USD) from the ATM.

Barclays Bank customers appreciated the ATM for automated cash withdrawals as the bank closed the teller counters mid-afternoon.

“The bank was only open until 3:30 p.m. at that time, so when the ATM was introduced, customers could get cash outside of banking hours, which must have made a huge difference to people’s lives,” Shepherd-Barron said in the 2007 BBC interview.

Approximately 3 million ATMs are being used worldwide, mostly on Fridays.

It is good to remember the people, who, years ago, made possible what today we take for granted, the ATM.

You can see Donald Wetzel’s ATM US Patent at https://bit.ly/3AV8CRf.

Donald C. Wetzel was born Jan. 3, 1929, and is 93 years of age.

John Shepherd-Barron died May 15, 2010, in the Scottish Highlands of the UK, at age 84.

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