Whick Bank launched their first ATM machine

ATMs are similar to cell phones: today many people wonder how they used to live without them. Forty years ago, on June 4, 1973, three employees of the American company Docutel received a patent on their ATM. That was the beginning of a global triumph. However, it took another 13 years before the first machine was in Dresden in 1986.

Donald Wetzel worked as a marketing expert at Docutel since the mid-1960s. The company produced machines that took care of the luggage of air travelers. Wetzel was often on the road and always looking for new business areas. One day he was bored waiting in line at a bank counter in Dallas to pick up a few dollars. “People hated waiting in line. I thought that this routine work could also be done by an automated bank clerk, "recalls Wetzel.

The idea of ​​an “ATM” was not new, the first attempts were made long before Wetzel's brainwave. As early as 1939, George Luther Simjan presented a “bankographer” to the City Bank of New York (now Citibank). The new offer was not particularly well received, because customers only knew money-spitting machines as one-armed bandits in casinos. Regarding the low level of acceptance, the inventor said: "It appears that a few prostitutes and gamblers who did not want to have face to face with cashiers were the only users of the device." The machine went into trial operation after six months quietly and quietly dismantled again.

It took more than half a century before the Scot John Shepherd Barron made a second attempt for the De La Rue company in England. His “Automatic Cash System” showed serious weaknesses. Because the device could only check checks previously issued by the bank to regular customers using a type of punch card system. Because of the microchip: In order to store the information, the checks were prepared with a carbon isotope that had been slightly radioactively treated.

The Scottish engineer James Goodfellow pursued a different system at the same time, with reusable customer cards and PIN. Wetzel took up this principle. Together with his employees Tom Barnes and George Chastain and a budget of five million dollars, he developed the ATM, which was patented in 1973. Account data and a personal pin number were stored on a magnetic strip. It was this technology that brought about the breakthrough for the cash machines as we know them today.

Nonetheless, business with the first vending machines got off to a tough start. That was also due to the teething troubles of the sweeping safes. The prototype was unwieldy and unpredictable. The inventor himself assessed the first machines as so defective "that the thing would also have been well suited as a boat anchor". And as soon as the ATMs were installed, the next difficulties arose: "People stuffed everything into them - tissues, chewing gum, Coca-Cola." Bankers were skeptical of the first ATMs for another reason. Why should they invest $ 25,000 per device plus installation, maintenance, security, and advertising costs when a flesh and blood employee could do the same job for $ 10,000 a year?

Even so, the first ATM was installed in a branch of Chemical Bank in New York's Rockville Center in 1969. The self-promotion read: "On September 2nd our bank will open at nine o'clock and never close again".

Once the first banks installed an ATM, their competitors quickly followed suit for fear of missing the connection. The online connection in 1974 brought the decisive step towards success. Nowadays the American companies NCR and Diebold are the largest manufacturers, followed in third place by Wincor Nixdorf from Paderborn in Westphalia.

In Germany, the Kreissparkasse Tübingen presented an ATM for the first time in 1968. He still needed a double-bit key, an identification card and a punch card to pay out money. The first modern device was finally put into operation on February 9, 1977 by the Stadtsparkasse München. Years later, machines from the West found their way to the GDR - to be taken apart like pocket calculators and to serve as a model for your own model. The state-owned company weighing technology Rapido Radebeul received the order and manufactured hundreds of devices. The Buna-Werke supplied plastic cards with magnetic strips - the national coat of arms at the top left, the passport photo at the bottom right.

The Dresdner Sparkasse on Güntzplatz tried out its first machine in 1986 in the foyer, not outside. In April 1987 the Sächsische Zeitung reported on the new tasks “for the collective of our Sparkasse”. Young employees processed the applications for the “money cards” “as a youth object”. Soon there were machines in Niesky and Löbau. Sparkasse employees in the SZ later reported about their teething troubles: The Bautzen machines, for example, installed from 1987 onwards, went out of service two to three times a week. Then, for example, a compartment for bent bills was full - only 20 could fit in there, then the device switched off.

There are now around 1.7 million ATMs in operation worldwide, in Germany a good 60,000. The devices are now also used for transfers and for charging electronic wallets. However, Donald Wetzel never earned a cent from the ATMs in addition to his salary. “The machine was owned by the company. Everything I got - I was allowed to keep my job, ”says the inventor. The only reminder of his pioneering work: a copy of the patent certificate hangs in a place of honor.