Automatic Teller Machines (ATM)
By Mary Bellis
As is often the case with inventions, many inventors contribute to the history of an invention. In the case of the ATM, Don Wetzel invented the first successful and modern ATM in the USA, however he was not first inventor to create an ATM. In 1939, Luther George Simjian started patenting an earlier and not-so-successful version of an ATM. Read about Luther George Simjian here.
An automatic teller machine or ATM allows a bank customer to conduct their banking transactions from almost every other ATM machine in the world. Don Wetzel was the co-patentee and chief conceptualist of the automated teller machine, 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. (editor's note: There are different claims to which bank had the first ATM, I have used Don Wetzel's reference.)
"No, it wasn't in a lobby, it was actually in the wall of the bank, out on the street. They put a canopy over it to protect it from the rain and the weather of all sorts. Unfortunately they put the canopy too high and the rain came under it. (laughing) One time we had water in the machine and we had to do some extensive repairs. It was a walkup on the outside of the bank. That was the first one. And it was a cash dispenser only, not a full ATM... We had a cash dispenser, and then the next version was going to be the total teller (created in 1971), which is the ATM we all know today -- takes deposits, transfers money from checking to savings, savings to checking, cash advances to your credit card, takes payments; things like that. So they didn't want just a cash dispenser alone." - Don Wetzel on the first ATM installed at the Rockville Center, New York Chemical Bank from a NMAH interview.
The first ATMs were off-line machines, meaning money was not automatically withdrawn from an account. The bank accounts were not (at that time) 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.
An online magazine aimed at the ATM industry, where you can read about the latest innovations in ATM technology.
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He is most famous for his invention of the Bankmatic automatic teller machine (ATM).
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