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A Brief History of the ATM

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Today, we think nothing of walking out of our houses on a Friday night without a penny in our pocket. The reason is that there is a network of ATMs around the globe: In the UK and U.S. alone, there are around 150 ATMs per 100,000 people—plenty to go around. According to analysts RBR, 2.25 million machines dispensed cash automatically at the end of 2010, and that’s expected to grow beyond 3 million by 2016.

But although we use them without a second thought, precious few of us know how they came to sit on our high streets and in the walls of our banks.

Luther George Simjan’s Bankograph

City Bank of New York installed a machine called a Bankograph in 1961. This wasn’t an ATM as we know it, though: rather than dispensing cash, it acted as an automated way to deposit cash and checks. One thing that it did share with the machines we use today was its general look and design.

Transported back to the early 1960s for the six months the Bankograph was available (it was removed after it proved unpopular to account holders, probably because it was new and untried), a modern-day person would likely be able to recognize it as something similar to today's ATMs. Blocky and boxy, it cemented the design standards for companies that would follow.

John Shepherd-Barron’s chocolate dispenser

According to John Shepherd-Barron, the reason we have ATMs is his love of chocolate and him running late one Saturday. He managed to miss the midday closing time of his local bank on a Saturday in 1965, meaning he couldn’t take out any cash for the weekend. He got thinking that cash ought to be as easy to get as chocolate bars from a dispensing machine.

Shepherd-Barron’s inspiration struck in the bath, where he was relaxing after a long day working for De La Rue, a global currency printer. Switching out chocolate bars for cash, the laborer took his idea to his bosses, who in turn presented them to Barclays Bank. The company was keen, and on June 27, 1967, the Enfield High Street branch of Barclays began dispensing cash, £10 at a time. Users inserted a single-use paper voucher (which would be mailed back to the customer to prevent fraud) and keyed in a four-digit code that we know now as a PIN, and they were given their money.

Meanwhile, in Sweden…

Nine days after Barclays unveiled their Enfield cash machine, Nixdorf, a Swedish bank, installed their first ATM dispensing kronor. They called their machine the Bankomat, a name which lives on in many European languages (including the Italian bancomat) as the term for ATMs.

From that point on there was a flurry of machine unveilings: Westminster Bank in the UK allowed their customers to use their own-branded ATMs in 1968. Around the same time Japanese savers could withdraw yen from their own machines, and a year later the first US-based machines came to market in Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York. Chemical Bank, the owners of the new automated teller machine, declared that “our bank will open at 9:00 and never close again.

Networked ATMs

Attaching ATMs to an internet connection became paramount to enable bank balances to update automatically and dynamically. The added complication of this caused the market to narrow somewhat in the coming decades, with two companies, Diebold and NCR, becoming the front runners and providing most of the machines used. They were replaced by other, nimbler manufacturers with better-looking and performing machines, and today ATMs are everywhere, always on, and constantly being used.

There are machines on U.S. Navy frigates and at the remote McMurdo research center at the tip of Ross Island in the Antarctic. Children can buy toy versions of ATMs to play with, and though we often bank online through our web browsers, there’s still a need, early on a Sunday morning or late on a Friday night, for the glowing slot of the ATM.

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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