The Quick 10: 10 ATM Statements

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On June 27, 1967, the world experienced a wonderful and dangerous thing: the first automated teller machine. Well, sort of - exactly who invented it and when the first "official" ATM was invented is a bit of a debate, especially amongst those in the industry. I bet you didn't know there were hot-button issues in the automated teller machine industry. Read on to find out what they are!

1. The first ATM isn't the one we're celebrating, but an earlier, unsuccessful model. Designed by Luther George Simjian, Citibank (then "City Bank of New York") installed the primitive prototype for a six-month trial period. It was removed, though, because the people that used it weren't the exactly the bank's ideal customers. Simjian later wrote, "It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn't want to deal with tellers face to face." Although his ATM flopped, Simjian didn't stop inventing: his later creations included a flight simulator for WWII, a type of postage meter and a self-posing portrait camera.

reg2. The second first ATM is obviously NOT the first ATM, but it's the one that people largely consider as such because of its success. It was installed in Enfield Town, North London, by Barclay's Bank. This version was invented (maybe) by John Shepherd-Barron, who was awarded an OBE for his trouble in 2005. We have his wife to thank for our four-digit PINs - originally they were six, but she couldn't remember that many numbers and requested that the length be changed.
3. James Goodfellow is another claimant to the title of ATM inventor. The battle between Goodfellow and Shepherd-Barron has been going on since the '60s and has heated up within the past few years thanks to Shepherd-Barron's OBE. Goodfellow got one of his own for inventing the PIN. But Goodfellow says the whole kit and kaboodle was his invention:

"For him to go down in history as the inventor of the ATM really stuck in my throat," says Goodfellow. "It is one thing for him to be awarded an OBE for services to the banking industry, but not for him to be portrayed as the inventor of the ATM. I have never bothered with this thing for 40 years, so it was a shock when it said he invented it. It's not sour grapes. He invented a radioactive device to withdraw money. I invented an automated system with an encrypted card and a pin number, and that's the one that is used around the world today."

Shepherd-Barron responded, "I don't know him, so good luck to the fellow, but it's clear that the difference between Goodfellow and us was that we thought through the whole system concept, and that was important to the banks who bought it. His invention reminds me of the hovercraft, an elegant failure. They didn't think through the performance specification for the hovercraft - it could work in three-feet waves, but not five feet, which is why it didn't become the global success it could have been."

citi4. And a third claimant is Texan Don Wetzel, who invented what most resembles the ATM we know today - the kind that accepts deposits and transfers money from account to account. He thought of the idea while in line at the bank on his lunch hour - he wasted a good portion of his break standing there and thought, "I bet a machine could do this a lot faster." And if you consider that the first ATM, as some experts do, then the first ATM was installed by Chemical Bank in Long Island on September 2, 1969. They advertised the new technology by declaring, "On Sept. 2, our bank will open at 9:00 and never close again!"

5. You know those $1.50 ($2.50... $3.50...) fees you pay to use an ATM other than one that belongs to the company who issued your card? Those fees and other similar fees add up to a $4 billion industry.

mcmurdo6. The world's most northerly ATM is in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway and the most southerly ATM is at McMurdo Station in Antarctica (pictured... not too exciting, is it?).

7. Depending on where you are, you might not call it an ATM. You might call it a MAC machine, a Bancomat, an "All Time Money," a Banklink or a Drink-link (both from Ireland; the latter is slang because they are used to withdraw money for bars so often).

8. You may or may not be surprised to know that most ATMs run on Windows, although Linux is also becoming commonly used. And maybe it's a good idea, because people are finding ways to hack into the Windows program.

9. In 2005, people flocked to an ATM in France when it was discovered that it was stocked incorrectly. As a result, the machine issued 50-euro notes when users requested 20-euro notes. But it didn't work: the bank kept track of everyone who had withdrawn money during that particular timeframe and requested that the customers make up the difference.

10. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, for their part, regards the 1969 invention as the first ATM, as the company that made it was the first to apply for a patent. Those in the industry apparently just call it the "first modern magstripe machine." I know, who knew was so much controversy over ATMs?

And if you ever wondered how an ATM works, here you go.

Do you call it an ATM or something else? When I lived in Philadelphia for a year, I had a part-time job at Sephora, mostly for the discount. When people would wander in and ask about the MAC machine, I had no clue what they were talking about for the longest time.

June 24, 2009 - 11:02am
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