Back in 1972, before the advent of computers, getting cash was very personal—everyone had to go inside a bank and talk to a teller—but not always convenient. If you couldn’t get to a bank while it was open, you risked running out.
Tom Clark helped change that. The 1969 graduate was part of a team of techies at NCR Corp. that created the first Automated Teller Machine. The group used the newly developed Intel 8080A processor to refine a teller’s system into individual units with screens and keyboards.
“We said, ‘If we limit the transactions to only savings and checking withdrawals and deposits, and added in a money counter, then the people could run this thing themselves,’ ” says Clark, who now works at Idea Business Systems in Cooper City, Fla.
The first ATM machine was a freestanding unit that Hollywood (Fla.) Federal placed in a Fort Lauderdale drug store, complete with an attendant to help people use it. The Winn-Dixie grocery store chain was the first mass user, seeking a cash machine as a way to cut down on bad check writing. But most of the industry, worried about the security of the machines sitting in their lobbies, hesitated.
“Bankers were scared to let people run their own accounts,” says the 55-year-old Clark.
So his team began working on a unit built into a safe that fit into the wall. All that was left was for someone to invent the bar codes on the cash cards and the switch that lets customers use one bank’s machine to access accounts at other banks. The system took off in the 1980s.
“It makes me feel I had an impact on society,” says Clark, a math major. “Every techie person likes to feel they can develop something that has some kind of influence on society, like Steve Jobs and Apple. I had a small hand in this thing.”
And we’re all the richer for it.