Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Hole in the wall

The idea of global electronic money was invented in 1968 by a junior bank manager called Mr Hock. Wisely, he didn’t give his name to the idea, but called it Visa International and sold it to the world.

The year before that, forty years ago this week, the world's first ATM had been installed in a branch of Barclays in Enfield, north London. Here is Mr Shepherd-Barron, now 82, who, while he was in the bath, had the idea of adapting a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.

From BBC News:
Barclays was convinced immediately. Over a pink gin, the then chief executive signed a hurried contract with Mr Shepherd-Barron, who at the time worked for the printing firm De La Rue. Plastic cards had not been invented, so Mr Shepherd-Barron's machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance. The machine detected it, then matched the cheque against a Pin number. However, Mr Shepherd-Barron denies there were any health concerns: "I later worked out you would have to eat 136,000 such cheques for it to have any effect on you."

The machine paid out a maximum of £10 a time. "But that was regarded then as quite enough for a wild weekend," he says.

Mr Shepherd-Barron had come up with the idea of the PIN when he realised that he could remember his six-figure army number. But he decided to check that with his wife, Caroline. "Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard," he laughs.

A small plaque was placed on the site of the first machine on the 25th anniversary of its installation, but few people notice it. Given that there are now more than 1.6 million cash machines worldwide, it is a classic case of British modesty.

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