Cash machine inventor dies in Scotland at 84

Thu May 20, 2010 9:58am EDT
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By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A Scotsman who came up with the idea for the world's first automatic cash machine while sitting in the bath after he was locked out of his bank has died at the age of 84.

John Shepherd-Barron's "eureka" moment was inspired by a machine dispensing chocolate bars and he later sold his concept to an executive at Britain's Barclays Bank over a pink gin.

More than 40 years after the first cash machine, or ATM, opened at a bank in north London, customers now have access to 1.7 million worldwide.

"It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world," he said in a BBC interview in 2007 to mark the ATM's 40th anniversary. "I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash."

In the absence of plastic cards, the first customers withdrew money using special checks impregnated with a mildly radioactive material. The machines were designed to recognize the checks and dispense money once the customer had entered a personal identification number (PIN).

Shepherd-Barron's wife suggested he used a four-digit security number because she said she would never be able to remember the originally planned six digits. The idea stuck.

Banks in the United States at first gave his invention a lukewarm reception, viewing it as a "wacky European idea that wouldn't sell in America", the inventor and businessman said.

But after the first orders came in, the public warmed to the machines and the idea snowballed. His machine hit the streets just before rivals' designs from around the world.   Continued...

<p>Scottish inventor John Shepherd-Barron is seen in an undated photo. REUTERS/The Scotsman/Handout</p>