The ATM revolution started 50 years ago in Rockville Centre


Technology has changed our world — from the way we communicate with friends and order food to how we travel and pay bills.

Banking is one activity that has been digitally transformed. We now have smartphones that allow people to check their account balances and deposit checks. But decades before the digital age, the seeds of new banking technology were planted in Rockville Centre.

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 2, 1969, history was made when the first ATM in the U.S. dispensed cash from Chemical Bank, now Chase Bank, on North Village Avenue. (Chase acquired Chemical in 1996.) The public could access money 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In honor of this milestone, JPMorgan Chase will host a 50th anniversary celebration at its Rockville Centre branch on Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. The inventor of the ATM, Don Wetzel, will attend, as will local officials and community members.

“I’m so excited and pleased for this to be a part of Rockville Centre history,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said. “It’s a national recognition, and I’m happy to be here as mayor in 2019 to celebrate it.”

Murray, a lifelong Rockville Centre resident, was a junior in high school when the first ATM came to town. He and his family had been using Chemical Bank for many years before the ATM arrived, he said. While he doesn’t remember his first trip to the machine, he does recall “a lot of hoopla” about the new technology.

Another lifelong resident, Jeff Greenfield, was 16 at the time and remembers visiting the ATM with his father. “You could only use a MasterCard, and it only dispensed up to $100,” he said.

When it was introduced, Chemical’s ATM was called a “Docuteller” or a “Docutel cash dispensing machine.” It accepted the MasterCharge card, which customers could get at a Chemical Bank.

Across the street on North Village Avenue, Leder’s Jewelers has been in business since 1948. The business, which was initially a general store, has been in the Leder family since 1902, spanning five generations.

Lloyd Leder, the current owner, remembers when the first ATM was installed — he could see the machine from the store window. It was right outside the Chemical Bank building, with no enclosure. “It definitely affected business,” he recalled. “In those times, banks closed at 3 p.m. — the latest. So this made accessing funds and spending easier for people.”

The advertisements for the ATM said it all, he noted. “On September 2, our banks will open at 9 a.m. and never close again,” one read.

That first cash machine started a chain reaction. Following Chemical’s lead, City National Bank and Trust Company introduced its own “Cash ’n Carry” machine in Ohio in 1970, and Chase Manhattan Bank installed its first cash machine at its location in Grand Central Station in 1973.

Next Friday, Chase will display visuals of the first machine and 1960s-era advertising that drew people to make their first ATM transactions. Murray will speak and give a proclamation, and Leder said he might walk over to celebrate, too.

“It’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago,” Leder said. “Time marches on.”