If this was a more just, perhaps wiser, world, perchance today nobody would have heard about the ATMs but about the JSB. This is not a matter of phonetics or marketing appealing, but it calls my attention to discover how the father of possibly the most revolutionary invent of the century has passed away mostly unknown.
I am talking about John Shepherd-Barron, claimed to have created the first world automatic cash expender in the early 60s. He has died in his Scotland, aged 84 and after a dramatically efficient illness.
After receiving an education at Cambridge and Edinburgh universities, he found himself visiting john and thinking of the way to withdraw money from a machine jumping the tedious queues to get to the banker. In such a little glamorous way he came up with the concept of a self-service machine which would dispense paper currency with 24/7 availability. This was the Automated Teller Machine (ATM)
His wife suggested the introduction of a four digits password, instead of the six ones normally required, in order to make it easier for everybody to remember it. “It occurred to me that it should be a way to access to my money from anywhere in the world, or even within the United Kingdom”, explained three years ago in an interview for BBC. “Then, I saw it: a slightly different version of a chocolate vending machine but with money instead of sweets”, recalled.
At that time, Barron was working as Managing Director for De la Rue Instruments in Enfield, north London, where a sharp and visionary executive from Barclays Bank trusted him and fought hand in hand with the inventor to see the first ATM installed in his branch in 1967. Fifty years after, there are more than a million installed worldwide.
He received the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 New Year’s Honours list for services to banking as “inventor of the automatic cash dispenser”. However, there is still some controversy over the invention. The first ever ATM was his creation, whereas a mechanical dispenser had been developed by Luther George Simjianand was installed in 1939 at the City Bank of New York, Wikipedia dixit. It was removed from the bank the same year it was installed due to lack of customer demand. Soon, other Scottish, Goodfellow, patented the system to type the suggested four digits password to access to the money.
The Shepherd-Barron dispenser actually predated the introduction of the plastic card with its magnetic strip: the machines used special cheques which had been impregnated with a radioactive compound of carbon-14, which was detected and matched against the personal identification number (PIN) entered on a keypad.
As well as the ATM, he has also invented some less successful devices, such as one that plays the sound of a killer whale to deter seals from salmon farms.