John Shepherd-Barron, 84; devised ancestor of modern ATM

A young woman puts her computer punch card into the slot of an ATM at a London bank 1968. Bank cards weren't used till later.
A young woman puts her computer punch card into the slot of an ATM at a London bank 1968. Bank cards weren't used till later. (Associated Press)
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Friday, May 21, 2010

John Shepherd-Barron, 84, the Scotsman often credited with devising an ancestor of the modern automated teller machine, died May 15 at a hospital in Inverness, Scotland. No cause of death was reported.

ATMs had been attempted for decades before Mr. Shepherd-Barron, then an employee of a company that specialized in printing technology, came up with his idea for a workable machine while taking a bath.

"I would always take money out of my bank on a Saturday morning. However, one Saturday I was one minute late and it was closed," he told the London Guardian in 2007. "That night I started thinking there must be a better way to get cash when I wanted it.

"I thought of the chocolate vending machine where money was put in and a bar dispatched -- surely money could be dispensed in the same way," he said. "Within two years my idea had become reality."

The ATM was installed at a branch of Barclays in a north London suburb on June 27, 1967.

Plastic bank cards had not been invented, so Mr. Shepherd-Barron's machine used special checks that were chemically coded. Customers placed the checks in a drawer, and after entering a personal identification number, a second drawer would spring open with a 10 pound note.

Mr. Shepherd-Barron originally planned to make personal identification numbers six digits long but cut the number to four after his wife, Caroline, complained that six was too many.

"Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard," he told the BBC.

There are more than 1.7 million ATMs around the world, according to the ATM Industry Association.

According to the London Daily Telegraph, Mr. Shepherd-Barron did not patent his system and made no money from his invention. But in 2004, he was awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire decoration for his services to banking.

Survivors include his wife; three sons; and six grandchildren.

-- From Staff and News Services


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