The History of the Modern ATM Machine

atm machine

A Modern ATM Machine

For years, there have been people foretelling the demise of cash as a form of currency. The truth is, however, that cash isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

While technologies are advancing and evolving, the reality is that cash is the only tried and true medium. It works, and as long as that is the case, it is going to be a fixture of society.

Complimentary to cash is the ATM machine. The ATM machine is something that can be easily taken for granted. In the world today, there are more than a million ATM machines, and it is estimated that a new one appears every 5 minutes!

ATM Machine History

The ATM machine first came into use about 40 years ago, and much has changed with it since then. Originally, ATM machines only gave money out. Any other transactions that you wanted to do would have to be done with a traditional teller.

Of course, in the 1970s, there were a lot of technologies that weren’t invented, or economical enough to be put into an ATM. The machines that banks use today are a reflection of the forward march of progress and ingenuity.

One of the inventions that the original ATM machines didn’t have was a magnetic card reader. Today, one of the most common things within our society is the magnetic stripe card. At the time of the first ATM, however, ATM cards had yet to be invented.

Initially, ATM machines took checks that they recognized in consequence of the carbon 14 that they were marked with. While it is true that credit cards existed before the ATM came out, they often did not bear a magnetic strip like modern credit cards and ATM cards do.

An interesting story about the ATM card has to do with the engineer, Forrest Parry, who was developing it at IBM. While the design had already been established, there was a question as to how to affix the magnetic strip to the card. As hard as Forrest Parry tried, none of the adhesives he had were doing the job right. Arriving home one evening, he related his troubles to his wife, and she had a spark of genius.

Walking over to her ironing board, she fused the magnetic strip to the plastic card using a little bit of heat. With that, the modern ATM card was born!

Another difference between the modern machines we have today and the initial ATM is that they weren’t networked. This means that the ATM machine that was first installed at Barclays in Europe, and the one installed in New York, couldn’t reference an individual’s account. It also couldn’t accept money or assist in transfers. Instead, they could only give you a set amount of money back according to the value of the inserted check. Today, almost every ATM machine that you interact with will be part of an interbank network.

This network is the reason that you can go up to an ATM that has virtually no association with your bank and get money out. Prior to the invention of the interbank network, a person would only be able to get money from ATM machines that were affiliated with their specific bank.

There are, of course, hundreds of technologies that have gone into making the modern ATM what it is today. Things like touch screen displays, different types of network connections, and database software have made ATM machines more and more convenient for everyone. So, while you may get hit with a fee of a couple dollars every once in a while, be thankful for the fact that you can get money whenever and wherever you wish.

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