John Shepherd-Barron, the man regarded historically as having invented the ATM, has died at the age of 84.
Born in India but growing up in the United Kingdom, Shepherd-Barron is generally credited with creating the first widely used machine for debit accounts. Previous automated machines had either been for making deposits or for accessing cash with a credit card. He is said to have thought up the idea while taking a bath, with chocolate vending machines his inspiration.
The first machine launched in 1967 and, in an event known to this day to all true trivia buffs, the first withdrawal was made by Reg Varney, an actor known best for the sitcom On The Buses.
With plastic cards not yet invented, Shepherd-Barron’s creation originally accepted pre-printed checks which contained carbon-14. The machines detected this radioactive substance and then paid out the cash upon confirmation of a PIN code. The BBC notes that Shepherd-Barron has considered using a six-digit PIN but was persuaded by his wife that most people would only be able to remember four digits.
While Shepherd-Barron was later honored by the Queen for his work, he did also leave a legacy of tautology. There can be few linguistic pedants who haven’t found themselves irritated by somebody else saying they have typed their PIN number into the ATM machine.
There have been some notable variations on the original ATM design over the years. Last year several ATMs in London’s East End were reconfigured to display instructions in Cockney rhyming slang as a publicity stunt.
And this month a hotel in Abu Dhabi offered the ultimate in ATM luxury: a machine dispensing gold bars rather than cash: