Unveiling Of IBM’s First ATM Machine In London (U.K.), mid-1970s — A STORY.
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The story in the January 26, 2015 issue of the U.K. “Daily Mail”, that I talked about here, which memorialized IBM in terms of ‘floppy disks and the first modern ATM’, brought to mind this story. With the book in the works I had been too busy until now to get around to sharing it with you.
My business cards from the mid-1990s to about 2003 used to say: ‘analyst, author and raconteur’. The latter in the main was to embrace the fact that a major part of my then life was about relating stories — verbally and in writing. Doing standup seminars was a huge part of my life and I used to write even more than I do now!
I still think of myself as a raconteur though most of my storytelling is now restricted to my writings. But sharing stories, especially those with historic significance, is important to me — because I do NOT want them to disappear. So it has been very gratifying, especially this year, that my story about what happened in 1948 during Ceylon’s Independence Celebration has now received significant coverage in Sri Lanka. That is the point. I would have hated for that story to have died with me.
So, this story, is in the same spirit.
Unveiling Of IBM’s First ATM In London, mid-1970s,
I heard this story, c. 1977, while working for IBM (U.K.) at Hursley. I can still remember the event, vividly, in my mind’s eye. It took place in the Hursley ‘Special Engineering’ lab (in the low-slung, single story, bunker like building in which all of Hursley’s ‘Special Engineering’ group was housed at the time). We were all gathered around, informally, around an 8100. There was about eight or nine of us from various projects. I think we were just taking a break. The story was told by a ‘Planner’ (IBM terminology at the time for what today would be a ‘Product Manager’). Hursley ‘Special Engineering’ would have, of course, played some role in the U.K. version of an ATM. IF nothing else the ATM, most likely an IBM 3614 or 3624, would have had to have been customized for ‘UK English’ and to handle UK Sterling currency. That would have been done by Hursley ‘Special Engineering’. So the Planner telling this story probably was involved with this ATM unveiling from the start. As with the Ceylon story I never tried to verify it — at the time. It was no big deal. We were a group of friends, chatting. Nobody was trying to score points. So the chances are that this story, like the Ceylon story, is true. It is even possible that the Planner had been there. Again, I never asked. I, alas, no longer remember his name (and folks know how bad I am with names). I can, however, visualize him.
I found this story online. The timeframe ADDS up. Again this was not the first ATM, first ATM in the U.K. or first ATM in London. It was IBM’s first ATM in London. Got that? OK.
The unveiling was a ‘big deal’. I think it was a Monday at the City. There was a Royal involved. It might not have been the Queen per se. It might have been Prince Philip, Princess Anne or a second-tier Royal such as Prince Michael of Kent. [IBM, at in those days, did NOT have trouble getting Royal patronage given their clout in the U.K.]
The ATM is installed in the lobby. On a wall, IBMers had been working on it all weekend to make sure it worked perfectly. But as was fairly normal they did all of the testing using ‘mock’ paper currency. The unveiling is close. The ATM is behind a curtain. There are cameras. Speeches are being made. An IBM engineer loads the machine, behind the curtain, with REAL money. It is now ready for action.
Lots of fanfare. The Royal is given an ATM card. IBM VIPs are at hand, at the Royal’s elbow, to offer instructions on how to use the machine.
The Royal inserts the card, types in a pin and enters a cash amount.
The machine ‘whirrs’ into action and suddenly everybody hears VERY CLEARLY the dreadful sound of paper being ripped. Nothing is coming out. Just this awful ripping sound from within the ATM.
The IBMers are looking at each other — mortified. Eventually they jump into action — like all good IBMers are expected to do. They escort the Royal backwards and draw back the curtain.
The engineers immediately open the side of the ATM and dive in.
To their horror, but also to their amusement, it is very obvious what had gone wrong.
The person loading the ATM with £5 notes, in his excitement and nervousness, had FORGOT to take off the rubber bands that held the notes together.
That was IT.
So per the story, and I am sure it is true, that was what happened at the unveiling of IBM’s first ATM in London, U.K.