Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook and is now worth an estimated $48bn (£33bn). James Goodfellow also invented something used by millions of people around the world every day – the cash machine – but it didn’t make him rich. In fact, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his invention, the 79-year-old told Guardian Money that he earned just $15 (around £10) from the patent, and has not made a penny more from it since.
“You can imagine how I feel when I see bankers getting £1m bonuses. I wonder what they contributed to the banking industry more than I did to merit a £1m bonus. It doesn’t make much sense to me, but that’s the way of the world,” Goodfellow says.
It also irks him that he’s not viewed as a good role model for inventors and engineers. He came up with a groundbreaking invention that spawned several industries and generated billions of pounds, “and I got nothing, so who’s going to want to follow in James Goodfellow’s footsteps and get $15 if they have a fantastic success?”
While Zuckerberg has secured a place on the Forbes list of billionaires and a multimillion-dollar portfolio of property and land in California, New York and Hawaii, Goodfellow has had to settle for a three-bed house in the Scottish town of Paisley. However, more important than any money is recognition.
There have been arguments for years over who should officially go down in history as “the inventor of the ATM”, and in 2005 a man called John Shepherd-Barron received an OBE in the New Year honours list for services to banking as the “inventor of the automatic cash dispenser”. But Money can reveal the UK government is now unequivocally saying it was Goodfellow who invented the ATM – so it would seem that after all the squabbling his place in history is now assured.
Back in the mid-1960s Goodfellow was working as a development engineer for Glasgow firm Kelvin Hughes, part of Smiths Industries, and had been charged with devising a way to enable customers to withdraw cash from banks when Saturday opening ended. “Most people working during the week couldn’t get to the bank. They wanted a solution. The solution was a machine which would issue cash on demand to a recognised customer,” he recalls. “I set out to develop a cash-issuing machine, and to make this a reality I invented the pin [personal identification number] and an associated coded token.”
This token took the form of a plastic card with holes punched in it. The patent documents proposed a system incorporating a card reader and buttons mounted in an external wall of the bank, and stated: “When the customer wishes to withdraw a pack of banknotes from the system he simply inserts his punched card in the card reader of the system, and operates the set of 10 push-buttons in accordance with his personal identification number.” Aside from the cards with punched holes, that pretty much describes today’s ATM.
After Goodfellow successfully demonstrated the methodology by producing a model, the go-ahead was given for prototypes to be built, and the first Chubb-branded machines were installed at branches of Westminster Bank (later to become NatWest) in 1967.
At around the same time, Shepherd-Barron, who worked for banknote manufacturer De La Rue, was developing a rival cash-dispensing device. His machine didn’t use plastic cards – instead it used cheques impregnated with carbon-14, a mildly radioactive substance. The machine detected the carbon-14, matched the cheque against a pin and paid out the cash.
Three years before he died in 2010, Shepherd-Barron gave an interview to BBC News – headlined “The man who invented the cash machine” – in which he revealed that Barclays was quick to say yes to the idea: over a pink gin, the bank’s then chief executive signed on the dotted line.
It is widely accepted that the Shepherd-Barron ATM was the “world’s first” when it comes to being installed and used by the public; the first one, at a Barclays branch in Enfield, north London, was ceremonially opened by Reg Varney, star of the sitcom On the Buses, on 27 June 1967 – a month before Goodfellow’s ATM made its public debut. However, the patent for Goodfellow’s machine was lodged on 2 May 1966, 14 months before the Enfield ATM machine came into service. By contrast, De La Rue decided not to patent Shepherd-Barron’s device.
The rivalry between the two men bubbled up when Shepherd-Barron was feted for his achievement. Goodfellow says: “My one big regret is that I never broke cover. I never said anything about it until John Shepherd-Barron received the OBE in 2005. This honour was granted on the basis that he was the inventor of the automatic cash dispenser. That really stuck in my throat and I kicked up a bit of a fuss. From 1966 to 2005 I never said anything, which was a big mistake.”
Eventually in 2006 Goodfellow received an OBE for services to banking as “patentor of the personal identification number”.
Shepherd-Barron is no longer alive to put his case, but in a 2005 Guardian interview he was fairly withering about his rival: “I don’t know him, so good luck to the fellow, but it’s clear that the difference between Goodfellow and us was that we thought through the whole system concept, and that was important to the banks who bought it. His invention reminds me of the hovercraft, an elegant failure.”
The cash machine has become a world-conquering piece of technology, and nothing – the contactless revolution, bitcoin, wearable technology, etc – seems to be slowing the pace of roll-out: there are now 3m ATMs worldwide, with the number forecast to hit 4m by 2020, according to specialist research and consulting firm RBR.
Goodfellow accepts he didn’t invent the concept of a cash-issuing machine, “but I did invent a way of doing it. When people talk about the Wright brothers, they didn’t invent the concept of flying, everyone was trying to do it – but they did it and got the credit for inventing the aeroplane, so I think I should get the credit for inventing the cash dispenser.”
The good news for Goodfellow is that this is now starting to happen. The website ATMInventor.com rounds up all the various candidates for the title and concludes: “Who invented the idea of an ATM? We believe it was [Armenian-American inventor] Luther George Simjian. Who invented the ATM as we know it? We have to think it was James Goodfellow in Scotland for holding a patent date of 1966. Who invented the free-standing ATM design we recognise today? We think it was John D White for Docutel in the US.”
Even better for the married father-of-one, the Home Office has now officially recognised Goodfellow’s achievement in the latest edition of a 180-page guidebook called Life in the United Kingdom, aimed at those seeking UK citizenship. In the section about “great British inventions of the 20th century” it states: “In the 1960s, James Goodfellow (1937-) invented the cash-dispensing automatic teller machine (ATM) or ‘cashpoint’.”
So after all these years, Goodfellow finally finds himself being talked about in the same breath as John Logie Baird (the television), Alan Turing (the Turing machine), Sir Frank Whittle (the jet engine) and Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the world wide web).
What about that paltry sum he received back in the 1960s? “The remuneration was $15. I had to make patent applications for 15 countries, and the standard fee for a patent signature was $1,” says Goodfellow. He was no longer an employee of Kelvin Hughes at that time, as he had taken redundancy after a decision was taken to relocate the project. “I was invited to go and manage it down south but I wasn’t up for it, so I took redundancy and went to work for IBM.” He stayed with the computer giant for 26 years.
Asked what he did with the $15, Goodfellow says he thinks he blew it on a wild night out, adding: “It didn’t change my life.” But, he concludes, it’s been a good working life: “I was very happy doing the job I was doing.”
Five other inventors who made little or no money
Shane Chen, the hoverboard Chen developed and patented the hoverboard design in his lab in the US four years ago. He marketed his design under the brand name Hovertrax, but cheap imitations made in Chinese factories have flooded the market. Asked by the Guardian in January 2016 whether he had got rich on the back of his creation, he replied: “No, no. If you look at history, inventors are usually poor. Other people make money. By the time we did the Hovertrax I was kind of used to it because there are about six of my inventions that have been copied over the past 10 years.”
Doug Engelbart, the computer mouse Engelbart, who died in 2013, was on a mission to make computers more intuitive to use. One of the biggest advances was the mouse, which he developed in the 1960s and patented in 1970. At the time it was a wooden shell covering two metal wheels. Engelbart conceived the mouse so early in the evolution of computers that he and his colleagues didn’t profit much from it. The mouse patent had a 17-year lifespan, allowing the technology to pass into the public domain in 1987. That prevented Engelbart from collecting royalties on the device when it was in its widest use.
Trevor Baylis, the wind-up radio It was in the early 1990s that Baylis set about developing the wind-up radio. His first working prototype ran for 14 minutes, and in 1994 was featured on television show Tomorrow’s World. The following year BayGen Power Industries was set up in South Africa, employing disabled workers to manufacture the Freeplay wind-up radio, and in 1997 a smaller and lighter version rolled off the production lines. But in 2013 Baylis told The Daily Telegraph that he was totally broke and living in poverty. Despite the apparent success of his inventions, Baylis said he had received almost none of the profits. “We are brilliant at inventing but appalling in the way we treat inventors. I was very foolish. I didn’t protect my product properly and allowed other people to take my product away,” he told the paper.
Marie Killick, the sapphire stylus Killick invented the sapphire stylus for playing gramophone records. She patented her creation in 1945 but didn’t end up making much money from it. During the 1950s she embarked on a lengthy court battle against electronics company Pye, whom she had accused of infringing her patent. She eventually won her case in 1958, but was declared bankrupt in 1959, preventing her from profiting from the outcome. For more about Killick’s colourful life, check out this article on the Inventricity website.
Alexey Pajitnov, the computer game Tetris Pajitnov is the man behind the infernally addictive and globally successful game Tetris, which involves making lines with falling blocks and was released in June 1984. He initially made the game, with help from Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov, while working for a Soviet-funded company. Because of this he didn’t receive royalties until 1996, despite the game being sold with every Nintendo Game Boy console around the world. In 2014 he told the Guardian that it was one of the first pieces of software exported by the Soviet Union, adding: “I didn’t make much money at first, but I was happy, because my main priority was to see people enjoying my game.”
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