History and Development of the Automated Teller Machine

Nationwide Automated Systems, Inc., through its Processing and ATM Partners maintains more than 20,000 ATMs throughout the United States, with ATM Services provided to such major commercial establishments as Costco, Target, and Safeway.

Although most people take them for granted now, automated teller machines or ATMs were not always so ubiquitous. Today there are more than one million ATMs around the world, with a new one installed approximately every five minutes. There is even an ATM in Antarctica, located at McMurdo Station on the continent’s southern tip. But as recently as the 1960s, ATMs were not only extremely rare, they were barely recognizable as the convenient and multi-functional machines that we have come to depend on.

Although the identity of the person who first came up with the idea of the ATM is subject to some debate, the man who holds the patent to the device is Don Wetzel, credited in the Smithsonian Museum as the machine’s progenitor. Wetzel was working as a Vice President at Docutel when he developed the concept of a cash-dispensing machine that did not require a teller. Wetzel asserts that one of the most difficult aspects of development was finding a manufacturer who could reliably produce viable magnetically striped cards in large enough quantities. Ultimately, it cost more than $4 million to make the machine a reality, a considerable sum for an idea conceived while the inventor waited in line at a bank.

After testing a number of prototypes, the first officially recognized ATM was established in 1969 at the Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, New York. This initial version could do no more than dispense cash, but within half a decade ATMs that could report account balances and perform other helpful functions were developed and installed at several major commercial venues. The ease and rapidity of ATM transactions rapidly surmounted initial concerns that customers would reject the devices for lack of personal interaction and fear of equipment failure..

By 1973, more than 2,000 ATMs, primarily manufactured by Docutel and its competitor Diebold, were operating in the U.S. ATMs proliferated so quickly that it soon became feasible to connect them to comprehensive networks, and in 1974 fully online ATMs, the true precursors of the modern incarnation, debuted. Today ATMs have become as indispensable to daily life for most Americans as cell phones or the Internet. It is only when no ATM is available that most people pause to consider what shopping and finance were like before the advent of this helpful device.

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