From the archives: the ATM is 50

27 June 2017

From the moment the velvet curtain was drawn back at a Barclays branch in London’s Enfield, the way we bank was altered forever. On the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the world’s first ATM, we look back through the archives at this historic invention.

Today we think nothing of stepping up to a hole in the wall to withdraw money, but until the late 1960s, getting hold of cash required a trip to the bank during office hours.

That restriction was lifted fifty years ago today, on 27 June 1967, when the world’s first ATM (automated teller machine) was ceremoniously unveiled at a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield, north London. The then Barclays deputy chairman Sir Thomas Bland was given the honour of drawing back a velvet curtain installed for the purpose, while comedy actor Reg Varney, best known for the sitcom On the Buses, made the first withdrawal – although he wasn’t suddenly cash rich, as the machine only permitted users to withdraw £10 at a time.

A gold-coloured machine at its Enfield branch

Barclays has installed a gold-coloured machine at its Enfield branch – where the world’s first cashpoint was unveiled on 27 June 1967

Carol Greygoose, who was a teller at the branch at the time, remembers it clearly: "I was only 18 and had been working at the branch for two years. It was a really big deal and we were so excited Enfield had been chosen."

"The bank was only open until 3:30pm at that time, so when the ATM was introduced, customers could get cash outside of banking hours, which must have made a huge difference to people’s lives."

Going for gold

To celebrate the ‘golden’ anniversary of the ATM, Barclays installed a gold-coloured machine at its Enfield branch – where the world’s first cashpoint was unveiled on 27 June 1967.

Marking the milestone, Raheel Ahmed, Head of Customer Experience and Channels at Barclays, said: “Even though recent years have seen a huge uptake of digital banking and card payments, cash remains a crucial part of most people’s day-to-day lives – whether it’s paying for groceries or doing the office coffee run – and we’re very proud of the role that Barclays has played in the history of the cash machine.”

Five little known ATM facts

There are 70,000 ATMs in the UK, each delivering on average £2.5m a year.

23 December 2016 holds the record for most cash withdrawn in the UK in a day: £730m.

The UK’s first “drive through” cash machine was opened by Barclays on 22 May 1998 at Hatton Cross, near Heathrow Airport.

The Vatican City is home to the only ATM in the world that can give instructions in Latin.

The world’s most northerly ATM is at Svalbard, Norway, and the most southerly is at the South Pole.

Reg Varney uses the world's first cash machine

British comedy actor Reg Varney was the first person to make a withdrawal from the cash machine – which only dispensed £1 notes, up to the value of £10

Best inventions

Like many of the best inventions, the ATM was developed as a result of frustration. John Shepherd-Barron, Managing Director at banknote manufacturer De La Rue, found himself unable to cash his cheques after his bank closed on a Saturday morning. Pondering the dilemma in the bath later that evening, he was inspired by chocolate vending machines to create something similar for cash. Within days, Barclays had agreed to work with De La Rue to create the first six –and then a further 50 – machines. Shepherd-Barron’s invention had begun to change the face of banking.

The original ATM had many of the same features as the machines we use today, including the need for a PIN. Realising the machine would need a way to identify individual customers, Shepherd-Barron, an army veteran, initially thought of his personal army number and suggested a six-figure identifier. But after his wife Caroline claimed she couldn’t remember more than four digits, he settled on the four digit PIN we use today, setting a standard that would operate worldwide for the next half-century.

Shepherd-Barron’s ability to influence and predict the future did not stop with the ATM. In an interview with BBC Business in 2007, just three years before his death aged 84, the revolutionary inventor predicted that "we will soon be swiping our mobile phones at till points, even for small transactions."

Crowd watches the unveiling of the world's first ATM

A crowd gathers outside the Enfield branch of Barclays Bank in north London for the unveiling of the world’s first ATM on 27 June 1967.

The cheque drawer in the world's first ATM

The cash machine required customers to put a cheque impregnated with carbon 14 (a mildly radioactive substance) into a drawer before entering their unique PIN