[LINK] RIP The Maker of the First ATM / Cash Dispenser

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Wed May 26 13:32:23 AEST 2010

[For once, it appears that the US may actually have conceded that 
someone outside the USA was responsible for an invention and its 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automated_teller_machine ]

Bathtime brainwave that changed banking
Date: May 26 2010
The Sydney Morning Herald
Obituary, reprinted from The [London] Daily Telegraph

John Shepherd-Barron, 1925-2010

John Shepherd-Barron once explained that he came up with the idea of 
cash dispensers, or ATMs, in 1965 while lying in his bath after 
finding his bank closed. It was then the Scot's habit to withdraw 
money on a Saturday, but on this weekend he had arrived one minute 
late and found the bank doors locked.

Later that year, he bumped into the chief general manager of Barclays 
Bank who was about to have lunch. Over a pink gin, Shepherd-Barron 
asked him for 90 seconds to pitch his idea for a cash machine.

''I told him I had an idea that if you put your standard Barclays 
cheque through a slot in the side of the bank, it will deliver 
standard amounts of money around the clock.

''He said, 'Come and see me on Monday morning'.''

Barclays commissioned Shepherd-Barron to build six cash dispensers, 
the first of which was installed at a branch in the north London 
suburb of Enfield on June 27, 1967. The actor Reg Varney, star of the 
TV comedy On the Buses, was on hand to be the first to withdraw cash.

As part of his work in developing the self-service ATM, which would 
dispense banknotes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Shepherd-Barron 
also came up with the idea of a four-digit PIN, which subsequently 
transformed the way people across the world handle financial 

Recalling his army number, he had originally intended to make 
personal identification numbers six digits long, but reduced the 
number to four when his wife, Caroline, complained that six was too 

''Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four 
figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard,'' 
he recalled.

With plastic bank cards bearing magnetic strips still to be invented, 
Shepherd-Barron's early machines used cheques that were chemically 
coded by being impregnated with carbon-14, a mildly radioactive 
substance. Customers placed the cheque in a drawer, the machine 
detected the material and matched the cheque against a PIN before 
paying out a maximum of £10 a time. ''But that was regarded then as 
quite enough for a wild weekend,'' he noted.

Asked about health fears, Shepherd-Barron calculated that a user 
would have to eat 136,000 chemically treated cheques to suffer any 
ill effect.


In 1950 he joined the De La Rue firm of stationers and banknote 
printers as a management trainee, and worked his way up as what he 
liked to call an ''innovative entrepreneur'', focusing on the supply 
of systems and services to the international banking industry. De La 
Rue was involved in the printing of more than 140 currencies, as well 
as stock certificates for the New York Stock Exchange.

The development of ATM technology can be traced to prewar New York, 
where a mechanical device was installed at the City Bank in 1939. But 
it was dismantled later the same year after customers showed little 
interest. Today it is estimated that there are more than 1.7 million 
ATMs around the world.

Shepherd-Barron was modestly sanguine about claims from others to 
have invented the modern cash dispenser. ''I've never really thought 
about being the inventor of the ATM,'' he remarked, ''but I built the 
first one, put it in and made it work, so I would say that is 

He did not make any money from what became one of the greatest 
advances in banking convenience. But for his services to the 
industry, and his work on ATMs in particular, he was awarded an OBE 
in 2004.


Roger Clarke                                 http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
                    Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au                http://www.xamax.com.au/

Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre      Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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