The ATM is turning 50

On 27th June 1967, Barclays unveiled the first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) at a branch in Enfield, London.

It was the first time people had been given instant access to cash, freed from the restrictions of branch opening times.

The ATM’s introduction changed the way people bank and paved the way for decades of future payment technology, from cards to online.

Its effect was transformative. Paul Volcker, of the U.S. Federal Reserve, once said it the “only useful innovation in banking.”

A British innovation

Although it is difficult to credit a single inventor behind the machine, John Shepherd-Barron and his team at De La Rue Instruments played a pivotal role in its development.

With debit cards decades away, the machine used cheques that were infused with a mildly radioactive substance called carbon 14. The maximum that could be withdrawn was £10.

On the face of it a relatively simple invention, the humble hole in the wall is one of the more sophisticated inventions to come out of the UK. A modern ATM has over 11,000 working parts and is linked to intelligent software.

Still going strong

The UK now has a network of over 70,000 ATM machines, most of which are free to use. A new ATM still goes online somewhere in the world every three minutes, according to the Automated Teller Machine Industry Association.

It’s a technology that continues to evolve. Barclays are currently trialling a contactless cash service while LINK, who runs most the UK’s ATM network, has launched an app to help people find nearby machines.

The ATM has even played a humanitarian role. ATMs were flown into Pakistan by helicopter to distribute cash to survivors of the recent floods.

And with the number of banknotes in circulation continuing to rise, don’t expect the ATM to go anywhere soon.