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Cash in Hand

The history of the ATM

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider our attitudes to money (SEAL theme: Social Skills).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.


Leader: Can any of you tell me what an ATM is?

Listen to a range of responses. (The answer that you are looking for is that an ATM is another name for a cash machine.)

Now can you tell me what the letters ATM actually stand for?

Listen to a range of responses. (The correct answer is that ATM stands for Automated or Automatic Teller Machine.)

It’s 50 years ago this month that the first ATM was opened in the UK. It was at the Enfield Town branch of Barclays Bank in North London, and the first person to withdraw money was a famous comedy actor of the 1960s, named Reg Varney. Reg played one of the main characters in the sitcom, On the Buses. From the beginning, ATMs were clearly aimed at the mass market.

The ATM was invented by John Shepherd-Barron, a British inventor who claimed that he was inspired by chocolate vending machines. He was frustrated by the fact that he wasn’t able to withdraw money from his account outside banking hours and wanted access to his funds to be as easy as picking sweets. The ATM was his solution. At first, the ATM was accessed by using a specially prepared token, which was mildly radioactive, but soon Shepherd-Barron replaced this with the concept of a personal identification number, or PIN. He initially proposed a six-digit PIN, based on his army service number, but his wife asked him to reduce this to four digits because she claimed that she would have difficulty in remembering a longer number. This is not a sexist joke: it is the historical truth!

Time for reflection

Leader: So, are cash machines a good idea or not? Without a doubt, they are very convenient. I don’t think there are many people nowadays who queue up at a bank counter to withdraw money. Cash machines mean that we can put money in our pocket whenever we want it. It is as easy as getting a chocolate bar or soft drink from a vending machine. But money isnt quite the same as chocolate or drinks. Is it necessarily always helpful for money to be so easy to access? Money can have a different effect on us.

Reader 1: In the Bible, wealth is often seen as good. Its a sign of success as well as the reward for honest, hard work. Its to be enjoyed without any sense of guilt. In fact, its often viewed as Gods blessing.

Reader 2: However, there is also a dark side. Money is portrayed as seductive. To be specific, the Bible teaches that loving money is at the root of much of the evil that is in the world. When we have money, the temptation is to want more, to hoard it. When we dont have money, it is easy to be jealous and resentful of those who do have it. Either way, the love of money can lead to relationship breakdown, to exploitation and even to violence.

Leader: This makes money sound a bit like a drug, which may not be far from the mark for some people. Money can be addictive.

Reader 1: The Bible also suggests that money can undermine our whole belief system. Jesus said that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus encouraged people to adopt a lifestyle that would please God. Wealth, he suggested, could lead people to compromise their honesty and integrity.

Reader 2: Jesus even said that money and possessions had the power to enslave. He said that it was impossible to be the servant of two masters, God and wealth. Ultimately, money and its attraction would lead a person away from God.

Leader: We may not all share the Christian faith, but we all need a set of values on which to base our lives. Jesus teaching is still valid for everyone when it says that wealth can cause us to compromise what we believe. So when you next go to an ATM, when you have the cash in your hand, how are you going to feel? What are you going to do with it?

First, let’s be thankful for the money that we have, however much or little it might be. We are among the rich of the world. There are many who dont have access to any money. They live a hand-to-mouth existence, on the starvation line.

A second thought leads on from this: how much of our money are we willing to give away to restore the balance? If each one of us gave £1 a week to our chosen charity, what would that add up to over a year? Do the maths! How little that would cost us individually – but what a huge effect we could have!

After we have developed a generous frame of mind, we can consider how to spend what we have left. Maybe we will spoil ourselves. Maybe we will spoil others. Maybe we will keep the cash in our pocket until we know what we really want to spend it on. Then, we will enjoy the pleasure of money.

And if we think the ATM has made it easy to spend money, just think about contactless payments?!

Dear God,
Thank you for the wealth that we have at our disposal.
When were tempted to feel jealous or resentful, remind us of what we have.
Help us to be wise in the way we use our money.
Help us never to lose sight of how privileged we are.
Help us to use what we have to help others.


‘Money, money, money by Abba

Publication date: June 2017   (Vol.19 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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