50 little-known facts about ATMs

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The most important financial innovation that I have seen the past 20 years is the automatic teller machine, that really helps people and prevents visits to the bank and it is a real convenience.

How many other innovations can you tell me of that have been as important to the individual as the automatic teller machine, which is more of a mechanical innovation than a financial one?
— Paul Volcker

Volcker’s remarks in 2009 were highly critical of banks but also highly complimentary to ATMs. Like all great achievements, though, the modern ATM was not an overnight invention.

It took years of incremental innovations to get to the day, exactly 50 years ago today, when the first ATM was installed in London. And it’s taken many more since to get to the modern multifunction ATMs installed worldwide today.

In a salute to the ATM’s 50th anniversary, here’s an assortment of little-known (or at least, lesser-known) facts about the decades of development and current-day status of the humble, but mighty, ATM. 


  1. The first use of the term “automated teller machine” dates back to 1967, as does the word “humongous,” as in, “Wow, this automated teller machine is going to be a humongous success!”
  2. The first “cash-dispenser” was installed in 1966 in Japan. However, it was connected to a credit account, not the user’s bank account, and was not a true automated teller machine.
  3. Barclays chose its Enfield, London, branch for the first installation because it was the only location with windows high enough off the ground to accommodate an exterior installation.
  4. A major factor in the development of the ATM was the acquiescence by British clearing banks to union demands for an end Saturday banking hours.
  5. The first ATM dispensed paper vouchers impregnated with Carbon-14, the same radioactive isotope used for carbon dating.
  6. Vouchers for the above-mentioned ATM had to be purchased in advance from a teller; customers were limited to one withdrawal per day of one 10 pound note (equivalent to 126.9 pounds or $161.46 today).
  7. The first ATM to use a four-digit PIN was installed at Westminster Bank in July 1967. A plastic card with perforated holes was inserted into the machine, and then the user punched in a PIN. If everything matched up, cash was dispensed. Very secure.
  8. The world’s second ATM was installed in Sweden, just a few weeks after the Barclays ATM.
  9. According to one anecdote, in the spring of 1968, a thief in Sweden figured out the algorithm that associated card numbers with PINs, and then proceeded to travel about the country emptying ATMs.
  10. In late 1969, Britain’s Midland Bank (today HSBC) was the first to introduce the magnetic stripe card for ATM access.
  11. U.S. patents for magnetic stripe card use at ATMs were not granted until 1972 (U.S. Patent No. 3,685,890) and 1973 (U.S. Patent 3,761,682).
  12. The U.S. ventured into the banking automation market in 1962 with the Bankograph by Simjian, however the machine only took envelope deposits and did not dispense cash. The concept never really took off
  13. Docutel filed the patent application for the first freestanding ATM in 1971.
  14. By 1971, only 11 U.S. banks could boast an ATM; by 1994, banks in the U.S. owned and operated more than 100,000 ATMs.
  15. In 1975, Iowa-based Dahl’s Foods became the first grocery to install ATMs.
  16. In 1977, American Standard sold off its Mosler ATM subsidiary, convinced that the idea would never catch on because people liked dealing with tellers.
  17. The first 4K core memory board was the size of current-day motherboards.
  18. By the early 2000s, half of the world’s ATMs were located away from bank branches.
  19. By 1986, the U.S. had more than 200 different national ATM networks.
  20. In 1994, Egypt’s Banque du Caire became the first ATM deployer to use cellphone networks to connect to a central computer; wireless networks weren’t used in the U.S. until 1998.
  21. Until 1996, ATM operators in the U.S. were prohibited by law from surcharging for ATM transactions; by 2003, more than 88 percent of ATMs in the nation charged fees for off-us transactions.
  22. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce launched the world’s first web-enabled ATM in 1997.
  23. By 1998, 99 percent of U.S. ATMs were connected to shared nationwide networks.
  24. NCR Corp. is considered to have launched the first full-function machine (offering transfers, payments, detailed statement printing and envelope deposits) in 1984.
  25. Countries that did not have ATMs until 2004 or later: Afghanistan; Laos; Iraq; Vietnam; Kazakhstan and Guyana.
  26. In 2015, Afghanistan still had less than 1 ATM (.096) per 100,000 adults; Laos had 26.16; Iraq had 1.87; Vietnam had 24.01; Kazakhstan had 71.4; and Guyana had 16.6.
  27. Somalia installed its very first ATM in 2014 (in a tourist hotel in the capital of Mogadishu).
  28. The world’s highest ATM sits 15,397 feet above sea level in Khunjerab Pass on the Pakistan-China border.
  29. The world’s most remote ATM location is McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
  30. In the U.S., nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of account holders visit an ATM at least a month, according to the 2017 ATM Future Trends report. In the U.K. the figure rises to 90 percent.
  31. The most desired ATM service among both U.S. and U.K. consumers is multidenomination cash dispensing; the second priority for Americans is real-time transactions, but for Brits, it’s bill payment.
  32. A slightly larger number of U.S. consumers prefer to visit an ATM (43 percent) rather than a branch (38 percent); preferences in the U.K. are more sharply divided, at 63 percent ATM  preference to 20 percent branch preference.
  33. In 2015, nonprepaid debit and general-purpose prepaid cards were used in 5.8 billion ATM withdrawals in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve Bank.
  34. The average value of ATM cash withdrawals rose from $118 to $122 between 2012 and 2015, continuing an upward trend in average value since 2003, the Fed says.
  35. U.S. ATMs owned by financial institutions: 48 percent
  36. U.S. ATMs owned by independent deployers: 52 percent
  37. Average number of transactions per ATM per month: 800
  38. Average ATM withdrawal amount: $60
  39. Increase in sales for a store with an installed ATM: 20 percent
  40. Increase in spending by ATM users compared with nonusers: 23 percent
  41. Amount of money dispensed at bars and clubs that is spent on-premises: 75 percent
  42. Average number of times a person visits an ATM per month: 7.4
  43. In 2015, U.S. ATM withdrawals totaled $691 billion, up 4 percent from the previous year, according to RBR.
  44. In 2013, China overtook the U.S. in terms of largest installed base of ATMs, adding 105,000 units in one year to reach a total of 520,000.
  45. According to the World Bank, the U.S. boasts 144 ATMs per 100,000 adults, nearly double China’s ratio of 76.7 ATMs per 100,000 adults.
  46. Worldwide average of ATMs per 100,000 adults: 45
  47. Number of new ATMs installed worldwide each day: 280
  48. Installed base of ATMs in the U.S.: approximately 425,000
  49. Installed base of ATMs worldwide: approximately 3 million
  50. Estimated installed base of ATMs worldwide in 2021, according to RBR: 4 million

Happy anniversary to the humble, but mighty, automated teller machine!

photo istock

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