Where was the world's first ATM installed

Money à la carte: ATMs in the GDR

The first ATM in the GDR was set up in Dresden at the beginning of March 1987, because that is where the Robotron company, which had developed these devices, had its headquarters. Outwardly, the GDR ATMs hardly differed from their Western counterparts - in this regard, the GDR was able to keep up with the much-cited "world standard".

In terms of network density, it looked a lot worse. Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, in August 1989, 274 ATMs were installed throughout the republic - 80 in East Berlin, the rest in the district cities. Only gradually did they appear in the flat countryside, for example in Bad Düben near Leipzig. At that time, the number of ATMs in West Germany was already a few thousand.

For those who had an ATM nearby, it was a huge relief, because getting cash from the post office and savings banks was a rather tedious undertaking - handwritten forms or checks had to be filled out, not to mention the often long queues. The ATM was a great blessing then.

"Electronic Bank Clerk"

At the beginning of May 1989 the innovation was presented to the audience in the television quiz show "AHA". Eberhard Geißler, at the time deputy president of the GDR state bank, praised the potential of the "electronic bank clerk". Most of the devices are prepared for "outdoor" use and are available to citizens around the clock, regardless of the bank's opening hours. The functionary proudly announced that the GDR was the first socialist country to develop and use its own ATMs. "We don't pay out marks and pennies," he had to explain to the audience, who at the time probably weren't familiar with the invention of the "ATM", because at that time only 250,000 GDR citizens had a cash card.

Finally cash without standing in line ...

In order to withdraw money, citizens needed a cash card. Even then, it was equipped with a magnetic strip and - in contrast to today's bank cards - it was also provided with a passport photo of the owner. In East Germany, the secret number was not called a PIN, but PBC - short for "personal bank code". The payout process hardly differed from today's usual procedure. The machine provided all amounts divisible by 10 between 40 and 500 GDR marks.

The ATMs were not networked

Unlike today, the ATMs were not connected to a central server. The booking data was saved on diskettes, which were exchanged when the notes were refilled and then imported into the IT system of the bank. Because unlike today, the ATMs were not networked back then, explains Michael Körner, an engineer in the development department of VEB Wägetechnik Rapido until 1989, in an interview with MDR ZEITREISE. In the case of withdrawals, for example, it was not possible to check whether the cardholder's account had sufficient funds. The account information could only be checked after the floppy disk with the transactions of the day had found its way to the bank headquarters. Any citizen who had a current account at the post office or a savings bank could receive a cash card. It was not yet possible to pay in stores with this card. In addition to cash payments, checks were common there.

... if the technology doesn’t go on strike

The relatively few ATMs were out of order relatively often due to malfunctions. One of the reasons for this was that the banknotes were checked very strictly before they were issued. If a security feature was not found or damage was detected, the banknote was retained. Since the space for the criticized bills was relatively small, the ATMs hung up more often.

They also went out of service if a customer did not remove their bills within 45 seconds. In this case, the output tray closed with the money. To get it released again, a bank employee had to come in person.

The GDR ATMs were developed under strict security precautions in Radebeul and Dresden. The State Bank of the GDR placed the order for this around 1983. The computer technology was supplied by Robotron. The prototype was tested in a garage in the Löbtau district of Dresden - initially with play money, later with real banknotes. Production began in 1986 in a specially built building complex. At the beginning of March 1987, the first two ATMs in the GDR were finally set up in the Sparkasse on Dresden's Güntzplatz.

After the monetary union, some GDR machines were converted to D-Mark, but they were quickly decommissioned by the end of 1991. A copy can be viewed today in the Technical Collections Dresden.

British invention takes over the world

The ATM is a British invention. The first was set up by the Barclays Bank in the small town of Enfield, north of London, on June 27, 1967. Bank cards with a magnetic stripe, as we know them today, did not exist back then, however. The machine checked a check and withheld it. The customer was paid the equivalent in cash - a maximum of ten British pounds, but at least that was enough for a wild night of partying at the time. Just like today, customers identified themselves back then with a four-digit PIN.

Germany already had an ATM in 1968, but it worked differently from the British one. The customer could withdraw a maximum of 400 marks and he needed a punch card for every 100 mark note - along with his own key for the safe. The machine installed at the Kreissparkasse Tübingen on May 28th only served 1,000 registered customers.

Various types of ATMs have also been installed in Japan and the USA. However, they all had the same problem: They were still very cumbersome, only usable to a limited extent and, despite all safety precautions, too unsafe. That changed in the 1970s when the magnetic stripe card was introduced in the United States. This made handling much easier and safer. The first ATM of this second generation was installed in Germany in 1978 in Cologne. However, the devices only began a real triumphant advance in the early eighties.

MDR time travel | 11/20/2018 | 9:15 pm