RIP – JOHN SHEPHERD-BARRON


EXPIRED: 05/15/10 – John Shepherd-Barron, 84, went to his bank, in Downtown London, on a Saturday in 1965, as was his custom, and got there a minute after they shut their doors. He was without cash the rest of the weekend.

So he went home and took a bath.

And that’s when it hit him: “What if you could get money, anywhere in the world, as easy as you could a candy bar. Right from a machine, but replacing chocolate with cash.”

Shepherd-Barron, who at the time worked for the printing firm De La Rue, took the idea to Barclays Bank. They were convinced immediately.

Voila – the automatic teller machine, or ATM for short, was born.

Although it wasn’t called the ATM at first. Initially they were called DACS for De La Rue Automatic Cash System.

Plastic cards ATM had not yet been invented, so the machine used special checks impregnated with  – wait for it – carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance.

The machine detected the substance, then matched the check against a Personal Identification Number, and dispensed a maximum of £10 a time.

One by-product of the ATM was the concept of the PIN number – something you didn’t really need before this time.

Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea when he realized that he could remember his 6-figure army number. But his wife, Caroline, balked at having to recall 6 numbers. Claiming she could only remember 4 digits, four numbered PINs became the world standard.

Sadly, Shepherd-Barron never patented his ATM invention. Barclay’s lawyers advised that applying for a patent would have involved disclosing the coding system, which in turn would have enabled criminals to work the code out. So he never made as much money on the idea as he should have.

Interesting. Banks couldn’t be trusted even back then.

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