The Cash Machine Born in the Summer of Love

Forty years ago this week, a British bank introduced the first automated teller machine (ATM). While Britain was rollicking to music on the radio from the new album by the Beatles, "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," a bank branch in Enfield, north of London, doled out its first £10 note on the fly. In a season that was dubbed the Summer of Love, a 42-year-old Englishman decided that what the world really needed was an easier way to access its money.

In an interview with the BBC, John Shepherd-Barron, an engineer working for a printing firm at the time, said the idea for the ATM struck him while he was in the bathtub. Like Archimedes, Shepherd-Barron's eureka moment came in a flash of inspiration. He said: "It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the U.K. I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash."

Soon Barclay's Bank, an international financial house, recognized the merits of such a scheme and signed a deal with Shepherd-Barron to produce the units, built by his employer, De La Rue, which just coincidentally happened to be the world's largest printer of paper currency. (While the ATM had been attempted before, in the U.S., the De La Rue implementation is generally credited with being the foundation for modern cash machines.)

The first De La Rue ATM in Enfield used machine-verified paper checks coated with a minimal amount of carbon 14 and validated against a four-digit personal identification number. The amount dispensed by the unit, £10, seems parsimonious by today's standards (it's now worth about US $20 and was about the same in 1967), but back then it was considered to be sufficient for an emergency infusion of cash. Or as Shepherd-Barron puts it, a tenner in the heyday of the Carnaby Street era "was regarded then as quite enough for a wild weekend."

These days, the octogenarian Shepherd-Barron believes the end is drawing near for the invention he's known for. He sees paper money soon becoming a thing of the past--with little use for a machine to dispense it. He told the BBC that people will soon be relying on handheld devices exclusively for their purchases. "Money costs money to transport," he noted. "I am therefore predicting the demise of cash within three to five years."

So while it was forty years ago today (25 June 1967) that the Beatles anthem "All You Need Is Love" opened the historic "Our World" global radio broadcast, it was a quiet Englishman who responded with the actual response to the song that every cynic of the late 20th Century came to adopt as their own refrain: "All you need is cash."

Philosophers and historians are left to ponder the dichotomy for the ages.


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