In much the same way that life without the World Wide Web, smartphones and high-definition TV seems alien to us today, so too is the idea that you once had to actually walk into your bank, during opening hours, with your banking documents, and ask someone to withdraw your hard-earned cash from your account on your behalf - and probably after a period of mind-numbing boredom standing in a silent queue.
The humble ATM (Automated Teller Machine), also known as a cash machine or cashpoint, or more colloquially as the "hole in the wall", put an end to regular, unavoidable, face-to-face communication with a cashier (or your bank manager if you were unlucky) and revolutionised our personal banking habits.
On 27 June 1967, a summer on from England's footballers winning the World Cup and two years before man first set foot on the Moon, the first ATM was up and running at a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield High Street, Middlesex, UK. It was one small step from pavement to cashpoint, but one giant leap for time-conscious members of the public after quick and easy access to their savings.
Actor Reg Varney (1916-2008), from the BBC1 sitcom Beggar My Neighbour and the soon-to-be star of On the Buses, became Barclays' first ATM user on that historic day, in the glare of the gathered media. After a celebrity-endorsed trial run, inquisitive customers were issued with paper cheques - in the days before plastic cards - that contained traces of the radioactive substance carbon-14 (aka radiocarbon), which the machine detected, enabling it to match a cheque to a four-digit pin number. Customers fed their cheques into the new device in return for a shiny, new £10 note - "quite enough for a wild weekend" in those days, according to the Scottish-born inventor of the ATM, John Shepherd-Barron OBE.
In an interview with the BBC in 2007 in celebration of the cashpoint's 40th birthday, Shepherd-Barron, who died in 2010, claimed the idea for his invention came to him while having a bath. "It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK. I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash." Shepherd-Barron, employed by the printing company De La Rue at the time, quickly signed a contract with Barclays and machines - christened the De La Rue Automatic Cash System, or DACS for short - soon popped up all over the place, issuing £10 notes to liberated shoppers like they were going out of fashion.
A blue plaque marking the installation of the world's first ATM in Enfield High Street was added in 1992, a small, oval-shaped inscription that might never had materialized had Shepherd-Barron not acted swiftly to get his invention to market. Hot on the heels of DACS were cash machines in Sweden (Bankomat) and from rival British bank National Westminster (Chubb MD2). In fact, by the early 1970s, IBM, Lloyds and Midland Bank had all patented and installed ATMs for their customers. Pre-dating the lot was Luther Simjian's Bankograph, trialled in the US by the City Bank of New York as early as 1961. Unpopular with customers, the machine, essentially a deposit box without a cash-dispensing facility, survived no longer than six months.
Today, there are an estimated 3 million ATMs worldwide, including some in unconventional locations. Antarctica's only ATM - and therefore the most southerly ATM in operation - can be found at Ross Island's McMurdo Station research facility. Nathula Pass, which connects the Indian state of Sikkim and Tibet, is believed to have the world's highest cashpoint, at 4,023 m (13,198 ft) above sea level, while the ATM located the farthest below sea level - at 421 m (1,381 ft), to be precise - is situated in the Dead Sea resort of Ein Bokek in Israel.
ATMs are now conveniently - or perhaps inconveniently, for those who can't resist the temptation to splash their cash - commonplace outside banks and building societies, in shopping centres, airports, eateries, garage forecourts - in fact anywhere people spend money. They're also now part of the furniture in amusement arcades, where they feed our obsession for machines of an altogether more entertaining kind.
Despite ATMs inevitably attracting money-snatching, shoulder-surfing, card-skimming fraudsters and deploying technology that's prone to malfunction just when you desperately need some 'dough', for customers who demand access to their money 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, ATMs remain the most convenient method. In 2007, Shepherd-Barron predicted "the demise of cash within three to five years", but his invention has comfortably outlived his prophecy.