In a world of Venmos, Cash Apps, Apple Pays, and other such digital currency, there is still one OG king when it comes to money. I'm talking about that handy machine that dispenses cash whenever you want it: the ATM. They are everywhere now, but it wasn't long ago they didn't exist at all.
It is hard to imagine that just fifty years ago the ATM didn't exist. If the average person wanted cash, they'd have to go inside a bank to get it. Liquor stores and outside bank didn't have them at all. The ATM revolutionized the accessibility of retrieving your money from the bank.
While we may get annoyed at certain ATMs with their $4 surcharges and all, but they are still an amazing invention that tend to save us when we are in a tight spot of needing money. This month the ATM celebrates its 50th birthday, and its inventor reflects on the revolutionary machine.
Donald Wetzel is the man who invented the ATM. It was just a normal Friday in 1968 when Donald Wetzel needed some money before leaving on a travel trip. He was forty-years-old at the time, waiting outside a long bank line right before the bank was set to close. It was an agitating experience. Wetzel, now 90, reflected back on that time saying, "So much of what they were doing was withdrawals, and it struck me as I was standing in line, that there ought to be a machine that could do that. And something that didn't need the bank to be open - customers could get money 24 hours, seven days a week. I thought it would be marketable, and it turns out it was."
The ATM was born from that simple experience. Now it is a vital part of how we live our lives.
It took Donald Wetzel 11 months to create his first prototype of the ATM. The first machine debuted in Rockville Centre, Long Island in 1969 at the Chemical Bank branch. Wetzel told Fox News, "The ATM is not a complicated machine as far as the building of it goes. I wanted something that used a transportable card, something we could stick in our pockets. The real secret of it is the magnetic strip. The biggest obstacle along the way was finding a way to make it extremely secure, if you are going to have this machine outside a bank with hundreds of dollars inside it, we had to convince the bank that nobody was able to break in."
Wetzel had worked for IBM as well as Docutel, a company that manufactured baggage handling equipment. He came up with the idea of using the pin number and magnetic strip for security.
As much as we love the ATM now, it wasn't a success right out the gate. Wetzel went door to door at different banks to sell the products, but they were not receptive at first. "People thought I was nuts. They would say 'You mean a cash machine that anyone could just walk up to and use? I don't think so. We have tellers who do that.' Then I had to explain why I thought it would be of great value to their customers."
Now there are 3.5 million ATMs all across the world. Wetzel is surprised that the machines today are more or less the same as they were back when he first made them. For him, that's a source of pride. "Frankly, I am surprised that the machine we initially conceived of making basically has the same functions as it did back then. Sure, it is faster and looks better now. But it gives me a great deal of pleasure because I think we really did our homework."