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Donald C. Wetzel

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Biography

Donald C. Wetzel enabled banking to take a giant leap forward when he invented the automatic teller banking machine. In the late 1960s, while vice president of product planning for the Docutel Corporation in Irving, Texas, he conceived the idea for the ATM while waiting in a bank teller line to cash a check. His invention was one of the first, if not the first, to combine a magnetically coded stripe on a plastic card and a personal identification number (PIN) that enabled users around the world to conveniently withdraw cash from their bank accounts – whether in dollars, pounds, euros or yen. Today, more than 371,000 ATM’s in the United States process 30 million transactions a day – and there are at least another 700,000 ATM’s worldwide. They also permit banking functions such as deposits, funds transfers and balance inquiries. Other ATM’s dispense movie tickets, phone cards and similar items.

In a ceremony in 1995 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., on the 30th anniversary of the ATM, Wetzel was honored as its inventor. He also was presented with an ATM card bearing his name and the number 000 000 0001.

Wetzel has founded three companies, all in the financial systems industry. In 1973, he founded Financial Systems & Equipment Corporation, which marketed and serviced non-computer products for financial institutions throughout Texas. In 1979, he co-founded Electronic Banking Systems, Inc. to provide marketing and consulting services to financial institutions interested in installing ATM’s. In the late 1982 he incorporated Autosig Systems, Inc., which developed and marketed electronic signature verification systems for financial institutions worldwide. He retired from Autosig in 1989.