John Shepherd-Barron, a Scotsman credited with inventing the modern world’s first automatic cash machine, died Saturday after a short illness. He was 84.
Shepherd-Barron died at northern Scotland’s Raigmore Hospital, funeral director Alasdair Rhind said Wednesday.
Shepherd-Barron once said he came up with the idea of the cash dispensers after being locked out of his bank. He also said his invention was inspired by chocolate vending machines.
“It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the U.K.,” he said in an interview with the BBC in 2007. “I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”
The first automated teller machine, or ATM, was installed at a branch of Barclays in a north London suburb on June 27, 1967. (An earlier mechanical device was installed at a New York bank in 1939, but it was soon dismantled when customers showed no interest.)
Instead of plastic bank cards, Shepherd-Barron’s machine used special checks that were chemically coded. Customers placed the checks in a drawer, and after a personal identification number (PIN) was entered, a second drawer would spring open with a 10-pound note.
Shepherd-Barron originally planned to make PINs six digits long, but cut the number to four after his wife, Caroline, complained that six was too many.
“Over the kitchen table, she said she could only remember four figures, so because of her, four figures became the world standard,” he told the BBC.
There are now more than 1.7 million ATMs across the globe, according to the ATM Industry Assn.
Shepherd-Barron was born June 23, 1925, and raised in India, where his father worked building ports, the Glasgow Herald reported. He pursued a business career in Scotland and in 1950 became managing director of De La Rue Instruments, a manufacturer of banknotes.
In 2004, he was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, for his services to banking. At the time, another Scottish banking engineer, Jim Goodfellow, objected, claiming that in 1966 he had filed a patent application for an ATM using a PIN.
Shepherd-Barron responded: “I’ve never really thought about being the inventor of the ATM, but I built the first one, put it in and made it work, so I would say that is invention.”
He is survived by his wife, three sons and six grandchildren.