Who invented the ATM? Part 1

atm inventer / who invented the atm? 

Over the years many people have tried to lay claim to the title of "inventor of the ATM."

by Anthony Miller

Some believe that Luther George Simjian was the inventor because his idea came first. Some believe it was Don Wetzel, after all, he's got patents on display in the Museum of American History to prove it. Still others, including the Queen of England, say the inventor is John Shepherd-Barron. John D. White has contacted ATMmachine.com, sent us copies of patents, and gave convincing evidence that he is the inventor.
James Goodfellow of Scotland also contacted ATMmachine.com and gave us his account,, including copies of patents. Jairus Larson contacted ATMmachine.com and, although he did not invent the ATM, he did develop the first "on-line" ATM.

Since the patent on an ATM was never applied for until years after Mr. Simjian, confusion on the inventor still exists. One reason for the confusion is that John Shepherd-Barron lived in the United Kingdom and James Goodfellow in Scotland. While all the others lived in the USA. I will present all the facts and evidence as I know it on this page, while being brief.


The ATM Inventors and the facts:


Luther George Simjian

In the late 1930's, Luther George Simjian started building an earlier and not-so-successful version of an ATM. He did register related patents. He initially came up with the idea of creating a "hole-in-the-wall machine." It would allow customers to make financial transactions, without entering the bank. The idea was met with a great deal of doubt. Starting in 1939, Simjian registered 20 patents related to the device and persuaded what is now Citicorp to give it a trial. After six months, the bank reported that there was little demand. Today, as you know, there is a huge demand!


John Shepherd-Barron

John Shepherd-Barron had an idea in the 1960's for a 24/7 cash dispenser. He was managing director of De La Rue Instruments. De La Rue today manufactures cash dispensers. There is a De La Rue cash dispenser in 1 out of every 5 ATM machines built. If you want to say that Shepherd-Barron invented the ATM, then the world's first ATM was installed outside North London. It was installed in a branch of Barclays Bank in 1967. Later that year, Shepherd-Barron presented his idea to a conference. The conference consisted of 2,000 US bankers in Miami, this was after the first ATMs had been installed in England. He spoke to the conference about the new self-service banking device he developed. On December 31, 2004, John Shepherd-Barron, was named an OBE, Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen. It was for "services to banking." Shepherd Barron said: "It was a bit late, but better late than never." Press releases stated that Shepherd-Barron was the "Inventor of the ATM." But, was he really the inventor?
Sadly, John Shepherd-Barron passed away, in May of 2010, in Scotland.


James Goodfellow

As a Development engineer with Smiths Industries Ltd, James Goodfellow was given a project. It was to develop an automatic cash dispenser in 1965. Chubb Lock & Safe Co. were to provide the secure physical housing. They were also to develop a mechanical dispenser mechanism. Mr. Goodfellow designed the new system. It consisted of a machine readable encrypted card, and the machine that read it. To this he added a numerical keypad. UK Patent No.1,197,183 with a priority date of May 2 1966, covers this invention. It is also covered by US Patent No.3,905,461 and Patents granted by many other countries. These Patents list James Goodfellow as inventor, along with the late A.I.O.Davies, the company General Manager. This US Patent still describes the basic ATM function almost 40 years later. These Machines were marketed by Chubb LTD. They were installed nationwide in the UK during the late 60s and early 70s. You can read "Who Invented the ATM? Part 2 here: ATM inventor James Goodfellow's story on ATMmachine.com. "
Thanks goes out to Mr. Goodfellow for giving us his permission.
(Update: In 2006, James Goodfellow was selected by the Queen to be awarded an OBE for his services. He was awarded this as patentee of the Personal Identification Number (PIN), and for his service to banking.


Don Wetzel

In 1968, according to a NMAH interview, Don Wetzel, says he was the Vice President of Product Planning at Docutel. The company that developed automated baggage-handling equipment. He applied for a patent on an ATM machine. He said there were two other inventors listed on the patent. They were Tom Barnes, a mechanical engineer. George Chastain, an electrical engineer. It took five million dollars to develop their ATM according to Mr. Wetzel. If you want say that Wetzel and company invented the ATM, then you might want to read the next paragraph.


John D. White

John D. White told ATMmachine.com that his work started in 1968. He told us that he installed the first ATM at Rockville Center, LI for the then Chemical Bank in August 1973. His design was patented on May 9, 1973 for the Docutel Corporation and was filed on July 29, 1970. The machine was a "Credit Card Automatic Currency Dispenser". Mr. White provided copies of his patent to ATMmachine.com. We reviewed them. It does indeed state that the inventor of the machine was John D. White and Kenneth Goldstein. The assignee on the patent was the Docutel Corporation. This is very convincing evidence. It appears that it was White and not Wetzel who received the patent. There is also a statement in the patent that supports the idea of the modern ATM.
"Both the original code and the updated code are scrambled in accordance with a changing key", which is what happens today. ATM's are programmed with security keys and the code changes. Today they must be 3DES certified. It is encrypted ( scrambled) to prevent fraudulent access to credit card and ATM debit numbers. This occurs between the machine, the bank, and the network processor. In the form of data transmissions. We would like to thank Mr. White for contacting us. And for sharing all of the documentation. The patent drawings he gave us look very much like the free standing ATM that is sold on ATMmachine.com today.


Jairus Larson

Jairus Larson told ATMmachine.com he did not invent the ATM. But, as far as he is aware, he developed the first 'on-line' ATM. This would be Diebold's "550". The first ATM's were all 'off-line' versions (referred to in the past as 'stand-alone'). Meaning they did not have any means to communicate with the bank network. Today's ATMs are "on-line". On-line in the sense that they communicate with the bank's computer system. Mr. Larson was kind enough to give us his account of how this happened in the early 1970's. You can read more about Mr. Larson's ATM development here.


Who does ATMmachine.com think was the inventor?

Who invented the idea of an ATM? We believe it was Luther George Simjian. Who invented the ATM as we know it? We have to think it was James Goodfellow in Scotland for holding a patent date of 1966. Who invented the free standing ATM design we recognize today? We think it was John D. White for Docutel in the US.

We want to say that the Smithsonian Institute Museum may need to take a close look at who they claim the inventor of the ATM is.
We do not believe they had all the facts available to them when they made their choice. They still may choose to say Don Wetzel, but if presented with the evidence we were given, that decision may have changed.
The Queen of England needs to include James Goodfellow of Scotland when speaking of "services to banking." And to give credit to the inventor of the ATM in the United Kingdom.

The story seems to be ever changing and we will update this page whenever we get new information.


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Copyright ©1998-2011
John D. White and James Goodfellow transcripts were written to ATMmachine.com.
A reference credit should be given to ATMmachine.com or a link back.

1. Research by ATMmachine.com
2. NMAH interview, 1995
3. John D. White
4. James Goodfellow, KCHS, I.Eng., FIIE