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Scottish fact of the week: The ATM

Two Scots lay claim to inventing the ATM. Picture: TSPL

Two Scots lay claim to inventing the ATM. Picture: TSPL

THE humble cash machine makes getting your hands on cash easier than ever. Trying to pick out exactly who invented the ATM - and whether a Scot was responsible - is slightly more difficult.

The earliest forerunner of the modern ATM was Luther George Simjian’ Bankograph machine, patented in 1960, which automatically accepted customers’ cash but could not give out money.

It was Scottish inventor John Shepherd-Barron who devised the first automated bank teller, which dispensed money in exchange for a unique token which the bank gave to a customer beforehand.

Idea in the bath

Shepherd-Barron apparently came up with the design in the bath, after missing the Saturday morning cut-off time at his local branch. He told the BBC in 2007: “It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK.

“I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”

Barclays Bank immediately took the idea on, and by 1967 the first of Shepherd-Barron’s machines was in operation at Enfield in London.

Just nine days later a Swedish bank launched its own ATM or Bankomat, adding an uncertainty over who had the idea first.

What was certain was that Shepherd-Barron had not invented what we would now call an ATM.

Card and PIN

The first bank machine with a card and a personal identification, or PIN, number was developed by another Scot, and tested just a month after Shepherd-Barron’s.

Paisley native James Goodfellow patented his machine in 1966, with the numerical pin on the card replacing the mildly-radioactive token from Shepherd-Barron’s machine.

Goodfellow sees himself as the inventor of the ATM, telling The Scotsman in 2007: “Among my friends and family, [the ATM] is known as Jim’s money machine.”

The ATM has now become ubiquitous, with the World Bank reporting that there is one ATM for every 800 people in the UK, and it joins the television, penicillin and telephone as a great Scottish invention. Which Scot truly invented it still remains up for debate.

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