Saturday, June 2, 2007

The history of ATMs

Speaking of ATMs, the first successful and modern ATM (automated teller machine) in the USA was invented by Don Wetzel, but he was not the first inventor to create an ATM. In 1939, Luther George Simjian started patenting an earlier and not-so-successful version of an ATM. Wetzel was the co-patentee and chief conceptualist of the ATM, an idea he said he thought of while waiting in line at a Dallas bank. At the time (1968) Wetzel was the Vice President of Product Planning at Docutel, the company that developed automated baggage-handling equipment. The other two inventors listed on the patent were Tom Barnes, the chief mechanical engineer and George Chastain, the electrical engineer. It took five million dollars to develop the ATM. The concept of the modern ATM first began in 1968, a working prototype came about in 1969 and Docutel was issued a patent in 1973. The first working ATM was installed in a New York-based Chemical Bank. The first ATMs were off-line machines, meaning money was not automatically withdrawn from an account. The bank accounts were not connected by a computer network to the ATM. Therefore, banks were at first very exclusive about who they gave ATM privileges to, giving them only to credit card holders (credit cards were used before ATM cards) with good banking records. Wetzel, Barnes and Chastain developed the first real ATM cards, cards with a magnetic strip and a personal ID number to get cash. ATM cards had to be different from credit cards (then without magnetic strips) so account information could be included.

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