John Shepherd-Barron

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John Shepherd-Barron
Born John Adrian Shepherd-Barron
(1925-06-23)23 June 1925
Shillong, British Raj
Died 15 May 2010(2010-05-15) (aged 84)
Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Known for Inventing the ATM

John Adrian Shepherd-Barron, OBE (23 June 1925 – 15 May 2010[1]) was a Scottish inventor, who pioneered the development of the cash machine, sometimes referred to as the Automated Teller Machine or ATM.

Early life[edit]

John Adrian Shepherd-Barron was born on 23 June 1925 at Shillong, then in the British Raj province of Assam (now in Meghalaya), to British parents. His Scottish father, Wilfred Shepherd-Barron, was chief engineer of the Chittagong Port Commissioners North Bengal (later became Pakistan, now Bangladesh) which was then part of the British Empire then later Chief Engineer of the Port of London Authority before becoming president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, whilst his mother Dorothy, was an Olympic tennis player and Wimbledon ladies doubles champion.[2] Shepherd-Barron was educated at Stowe School, the University of Edinburgh and Trinity College, Cambridge. During World War II, he was commissioned into the Airborne Forces, serving with the 159th Parachute Light Regiment.[2]


Shepherd-Barron joined De La Rue Instruments in the 1960s and came up with the concept of a self-service machine which would dispense paper currency with 24/7 availability. This was the Automated Teller Machine (ATM).[3] The first machine was established outside an Enfield, north London, branch of Barclays Bank in June 1967,[3] when he was Managing Director of De La Rue Instruments. According to the ATM Industry Association, there are now more than 1.7 million installed worldwide.[4] He received the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 New Year's Honours list for services to banking as "inventor of the automatic cash dispenser".[5] Shepherd-Barron told the BBC that he was inspired by chocolate vending machines.[3]

Fellow Scottish inventor James Goodfellow developed an alternative ATM design, using PIN technology (which he invented), resembling modern ATMs more than Shepherd-Barron's machine.[6] However, Shepherd-Barron's machine (the idea for which he had in the bath, after having been locked out of his bank)[7][8] was the first to be installed.

The Shepherd-Barron dispenser actually predated the introduction of the plastic card with its magnetic strip: the machines used special cheques which had been impregnated with a radioactive compound of carbon-14, which was detected and matched against the personal identification number (PIN) entered on a keypad. The short-range beta emission from carbon-14 could be easily detected, and he determined that the radiation hazard was acceptable as "you would have to eat 136,000 such cheques for it to have any effect on you".[3] A proposed PIN length of 6 digits was rejected and 4 digits chosen instead, because it was the longest string of numbers that his wife could remember.[3]

Personal life[edit]

His son, Nicholas Shepherd-Barron FRS, is professor of algebraic geometry at the University of Cambridge.[9]

He died on 15 May 2010 after a brief illness at the age of 84 in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, Scotland.[1][10]


  1. ^ a b Inventor of cash machine, John Shepherd-Barron, dies. BBC. 19 May 2010
  2. ^ a b – John Shepherd-Barron
  3. ^ a b c d e Brian Milligan, The man who invented the cash machine, BBC News Online, 25 June 2007
  4. ^ Inventor of cash machine dies at 84 in Scotland, Associated Press Story in Yahoo! News, 19 May 2010
  5. ^ "ATM inventor honoured". BBC News. 31 December 2004. Archived from the original on 8 June 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  6. ^ Caledonian Mercury, 21 May 2010
  7. ^ Interview with Shepherd-Barron, You and Yours BBC Radio 4 programme 25 June 2007
  8. ^ "ATM inventor John Shepherd-Barron dies at 84". The Los Angeles Times, 19 May 2010. 19 May 2010. 
  9. ^ Fellows of Trinity College.
  10. ^ John Shepherd-Barron, 84; devised ancestor of modern ATM. The Washington Post. 21 May 2010