Goodfellow: Genius behind PIN Technology

By : |May 2, 2016 0

Marking fifty years of his revolutionary invention, James Goodfellow, the man behind personal identification number (PIN) technology, which allows people to withdraw cash from bank machines, says his invention was not a cash-cow for him. But the Scot has “no grumbles” and is most proud of having been recognised by his local university as well as being inducted into a hall of fame at Harvard University in America.

James Goodfellow, 79, was a young engineer working in Glasgow in the 1960s when he had his eureka moment. The banks were looking for a way of letting customers get hold of their money after branches closed on a Saturday morning.

Goodfellow says, “The banks wanted an automatic cash dispenser – something that would provide a service 24/7 unmanned. They wanted a methodology for allowing access to cash on this unmanned basis. It eventually landed on my desk and the reason probably was that in 1964 I had spent some time in the United States designing access control systems.”

After working on the project for a number of weeks he came up with the idea of a coded card with a personal number to access money from cash machines. Taking a go-ahead from bosses, he then started working on the concept with a team of engineers. The patent was then applied for on May 2, 1966, and the system soon became accessible for millions of people around the world.

“The conventional view at the time was that it was going to be biometrics – such as your fingerprint – but that was totally impractical for many reasons. The actual sort of eureka moment took place when I was messing around and suddenly realised that I could do it and it would probably solve the problem.”

Mr. Goodfellow might not have made financial profits from his invention but has gradually received recognition over the years.Ten years ago he was made an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), and in 2014 was given an honorary doctorate from the University of the West of Scotland.

Goodfellow says it was just part of his remit as a research and development engineer to work on the technology and it was seen as a successful project. “I shortly went to work somewhere else and forgot about it,” he adds.

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