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It’s the ATM’s 50th birthday today!

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It was exactly 50 years ago today that the world's first ATM was unveiled at a Barclays branch in Enfield, London.  As a tribute to the golden anniversary, Barclays has transformed the modern-day Enfield cash machine into gold.  Today, more than half of UK adults use an ATM at least once a week.

Barclays Bank unveiled its first cash machine in the UK in 1967.  The first cash machine came about after some hurried signing of contracts, over a pink gin, between Barclays and Scottish inventor John Shepherd-Barron, who died in 2010.

“It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK,” he told the BBC in 2007. “I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”

All did not go entirely to plan with the first ATMs. When one was installed in Zurich, Switzerland, there was a mysterious malfunction. Eventually, it was found that wires from two intersecting tramlines nearby were interfering with the mechanism.

There are now 176 million cards in the UK that can be used to withdraw cash and a total of £180 billion was withdrawn from UK cash machines last year.  Portugal has the highest proportion of cash machines in western Europe with 1,516 machines per one million residents.  Sweden, typical of a Scandinavian shift towards a cashless society, has the lowest with 333 machines per one million inhabitants.

The full rankings below.


And just to test your knowledge, here's the BBC quiz on ATMs today:


Q1: What do the letters ATM stand for?

A: Automated Teller Machine

B: Automatic Transfer Merchant

C: Absolutely Terrifying Moneyhole


Q2: Following its launch in Enfield, the ATM was introduced in five other places: Hove, Ipswitch, Luton, Peterborough and where else?

A: Southampton

B: Southend

C: Southport


Q3: A celebrity was drafted in to become the first person to withdraw cash in a splash of media attention. But who was it?

A: Film star Michael Caine, fresh from success in Alfie

B: Reg Varney, who was in TV sitcom Beggar My Neighbour

C: David Tomlinson, famous for roles including George Banks in Mary Poppins


Q4: Approximately, how many cash machines are there in the UK?

A: About 50,000

B: About 70,000

C: About 100,000


Q5: John Shepherd-Barron, who invented the ATM, was inspired by the idea of chocolate bar dispensers. But where was he?

A: In the bath

B: At a railway station

C: At the pub


Q6: Plastic cards had not been invented so the machine used paper vouchers. How were they read?

A: By someone inside the bank who then poked money back through the slot

B: Parts of the cheque were embossed and were read by a braille machine

C: They were impregnated by a radioactive substance


Q7: A by-product of inventing the first cash machine was the concept of the Personal Identification Number (PIN). Why did PINs have four digits?

A: Mrs Shepherd-Barron could only remember a sequence of four

B: The ATM reader could only cope with a chain of four

C: They didn’t. It was up to the customer to have as many digits as they liked


Q8: What is a Lebanese Loop?

A: The paper band that comes around large wads of cash

B: A scam thieves use to steal your card

C: The roller system which churns your cash out of the slot


Q9: What’s special about cash machines in the Vatican City?

A: They squirt out holy water

B: They give out special money with the pope on

C: You can choose to have instructions in Latin


Q10: What happens if you enter your PIN backwards?

A: You risk locking yourself out of your account

B: It alerts the bank to the fact you’re withdrawing money under duress

C: Nothing



Answers below …









Automated - also Automatic - Teller Machine. It can also stand for the computing term Asynchronous Transfer Mode and informally "at the moment".


It was Southend. Enfield was chosen as the first site by Barclays because the branch "was not too far from London, had a good pavement façade, sufficiently high windows and enough space inside for the safe".  The next five were installed by the end of that summer in branches with similar characteristics.


Yes! It was Reg Varney, who was later to join On the Buses.  Dressed in cardigan, slacks, shiny tie and golfing hat, Varney fed a paper cheque, which predated the plastic card we know today, into the slot and took out the maximum amount allowed: £10.


There are about 70,000 ATMs in the UK. There are more than three million in use world-wide, including in polar stations at both the Arctic and Antarctic.


Quoted in 2007, he said: "It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK. I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash".


They were impregnated by a mildly radioactive substance called carbon 14. The machine detected it, then matched the cheque against a pin number.  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." he said, reassuringly.


Mr Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea of a PIN when he realised he could remember his six-figure Army number. But he checked 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.”


It's a device criminals attach to the machine that traps the card. The customer thinks the card has been “swallowed”, goes into the bank to complain and the thief takes your card.


It’s the Latin. There are 80 cash machines in Vatican City, which announce "deductio ex pecunia”. It literally translates as “deduction is the basis of money” but means there is cash available.


There’s an urban myth that the bank or police will attend a cash machine if the PIN is entered backwards.  It’s obviously not true. For a start, people with palindromic PINs would permanently be alerting the authorities. You simply risk locking yourself out of your account and having your card retained by the machine.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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