John Shepherd-Barron, inventor of the cash machine, dies aged 84

John Shepherd-Barron, inventor of the cash machine, dies aged 84

John Shepherd-Barron, the man credited with inventing the world's first cash machine, has died in hospital in Scotland at the age of 84.

Shepherd-Barron, who worked for a printing firm, reputedly came up with the idea for a free-standing cash dispensing device during a eureka moment in the bath.

In an interview with the BBC in 2007, Shepherd-Barron said: "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."

The first machine was commissioned by Barclays and installed at a branch in Enfield in 1967.

In the absence of plastic cards, the first machines accepted special paper cheques impregnated with carbon 14 and would dispense up to a maximum £10 per transaction.

Shepherd-Barron credited his wife with the idea for a four-digit PIN code after first toying with the use of a six-digit security code. He told the BBC: "Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard."

James Goodfellow, of Paisley, Renfrewshire, was credited with being the inventor of the PIN and awarded an OBE in 2006, 40-years after he first applied for a patent. He devised a method for PIN-entry code keying in the 1960s.

Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve recently described the cash machine as the last truly great innovation in financial services.

Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 May, 2010, 16:29Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

A little inacurate I think. I understood John worked at NCR, who produced the first ATM, with the devlopment financed by Barclays. The cash dispenser that and following ATM's used was adapted from a unit by De La Rue.

De La Rue later sued NCR for patent infringements and received an out-of-court settlement.

The first machine went into Barclays and used radioactive cards of fixed value for cash.

John never received any payment for his invention and continued to live in his modest bungalow until he retired.

I too worked at NCR - and they didn't pay me much either!

Lachlan Gunn
Lachlan Gunn - BenAlpin Ltd - Perth 19 May, 2010, 17:16Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I thought that at the time John did work at De La Rue (then the De La Rue Company Limited).  The initial trial order from Barclays was for 6 'DACS', which stood for De La Rue Automatic Cash System.

John took the idea to the USA in 1967 where in his words it was received as "a wacky European idea that wouldn't sell in America."................

Plastic bank cards had not been invented, so John's machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance.  According to him you'd need to have eaten 136,000 of the things for any adverse effect.  The invention really took off when plastic bank cards were invented. 

I like the anecdote that he and his wife first truly realised the global importance of his invention only when they visited Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.  They watched a farmer arriving on a bullock cart, who removed his wide-brimmed hat to use the cash machine.

According to the BBC he allegedly said, with typical modesty and understatement,  "It was the first evidence to me that we'd changed the world".

I enjoy the convenience of ATMs, and my livelihood depends on ATMs.  Rest in peace John........and thank you!



A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 May, 2010, 20:07Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

He also showed great vision outside the ATM field: "I don't think we yet appreciate the impact mobile telephones are likely to have on the technical world of banking."