Before the 1970s, all banking was done during business hours. Account holders relied on tellers to deposit and withdraw money, but during the mid-20th century that began to change. In 1960 Luther Simijan unveiled his latest invention the “Bankograph,” which revolutionized banking, allowing cash or check deposits at any time of day or night. Bankographs took a picture of the deposit, offering users a receipt of the transaction.
During that decade, new technology inside the home and across offices was altering daily life for Americans. Over time, citizens were becoming more comfortable and trusting of technology. Although depositing money into a machine was a difficult adjustment, the convenience of managing money outside of the confines of business hours drew Americans to Bankographs.
In the decade that followed, Bankographs were replaced by automated teller machines (ATMs). ATMs used plastic cards that stored account information within magnetic strips (like they do today). As the technology grew in popularity, banks sought creative ways to introduce their customers to the ATM. Among them was Citibank. For two years, Citibank conducted market research and concept surveys to ensure the success of its Citicard Banking Centers (CBCs)—their name for ATMs. Then in 1977 its chairman took a huge gamble, pouring $100 million to the new technology. With this investment, Citibank CBCs were installed across the five boroughs.
But it took a blizzard to make the CBC stick. In January and February of 1978, New York City was hit by two historic storms. The first left the city buried under nearly 20 inches of snow. Banks were closed for days, forcing locals to rely on the CBC—use increased 20 percent with each storm. To reinforce the newfound appreciation for the CBC, Citibank launched its iconic “The Citi Never Sleeps” ad campaign.
In the subsequent years, the country’s banks followed suit, ushering in the age of the ATM. To learn more about this and other stories of technological innovation made in New York, visit our exhibition, Silicon City on view through April 17.