50 Years Ago Today the First U.S. ATM Machine Started Dispensing Cash

There were several predecessors to the ATM machine. In 1961 a “Bankograph” was briefly installed at the City Bank of New York to take deposits. The Japanese “Computer Loan Machine” provided cash as a loan when you inseted your credit card back in 1966. Barclays had a cash machine in London in 1967 where paper checks issued by a teller were inserted into the machine for currency.

Which can claim to be the first modern ‘ATM machine’ is somewhat disputed, but certainly the modern cash dispensing ATM in the U.S., manufactured by Docutel, began 50 years ago today at Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, New York. An ad read, “On Sept. 2, our bank will open at 9:00 and never close again!”

atm machine
Copyright: micchaelpuche / 123RF Stock Photo

Docutel Vice President Don Wetzel, who was co-awarded the patent for the Docuteller machine, is credited with creating the ATM machine which dispensed cash. Chemical Bank is now J.P. Morgan Chase.

My First ATM Machine Experience Was Highly Lucrative

One of my earliest memories is a story about an ATM machine in the mid-1970s. My parents separated when I was two. My grandparents helped get my mother ‘back on her feet’ and I remember them giving her an ATM card. I didn’t understand at the time that they were giving her money in a bank account.

The ATM card itself was a curiosity still, and an awe-inspiring gift. The bank at the time — my memory as a two year old is that it was Citibank though I’m really not certain — was running a sweepstakes to highlight their new ATM machines. I believe that every 1000th transaction from a machine was an entry.

My mother paid attention to a few machines and predicted a regular pattern of days and hours when each would generate its 1000th transaction. We drove around to ATM machines and she would take out money a little bit at a time, then re-deposit the money, rinse repeat until the machine had its round number 1000th transaction and she generated another sweepstakes entry.

The prizes she won included televisions, microwave ovens, and handheld calculators (which were still a big deal then). That may have been when my love of banking and banking-related products began.

The Legacy of the ATM

The ATM machine meant that families no longer had to remember to go to the bank to have cash for the weekend. People actually made many of their transactions in cash then, though of course they also wrote checks in the supermarket frustrating everyone else behind them in line.

In many ways we’re moving beyond the ATM machine. Those airport machines can be run at a loss in the millions. We’re digitizing payments now, rather than using cash.

However ATM technology also helped foster the magnetic strip that was used on credit cards, and brought down the cost of providing access to cash and banking services more generally helping bring more people into the banking system. Now we take it for granted.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary – Interesting stuff. On the contest front, what your mother did sounds incredibly labor intensive. Did she really watch ATM’s for hours?

  2. @Christian – no, each atm receipt had a transaction number. So she’d go back after x period of time, see how many transactions had occurred at the machine, to estimate when it would hit 1000.

  3. Classic tale of you & your mom. My first atm experience was nowhere as lucrative (for me). In ’77, a college freshman in Atlanta, I had the standard account with First National Bank of Atlanta aka First Nasty. Along with that came a card for “Tillie” their atm brand. New on my own with scholarship $$ coming into my checking account and previously saved monies too, I used that card with ruthless abandon. And quickly found out that my bank account did indeed have a bottom. Ouch, what a lesson, but I’ve carried that money management lesson with me. Keep it within your means…

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