WASHINGTON - A cash machine lined in light grey carpeting may seem like an odd symbol of proletarian empowerment, but the Smithsonian Institution is planning to use a newly acquired automated teller machine in just that role.
The ATM, which stood for 16 years in the Dayton lobby of a former Society Bank branch, will be part of a nationwide tour called "Who's In Charge?" The show focuses on the struggles between workers and managers throughout history and suggests that ATMs symbolize a shift in that relationship.
"The technology of the ATM," said Smithsonian spokeswoman Susan Foster, "has allowed workers to better handle their time."
This particular ATM is something of an ancient relic in the brief history of cash machines. Its keypad is located on a tabletop, which makes it look more like a copier and not at all like a modern ATM.
The tour will mark the cash machine's first public display since it was donated to the Smithsonian by MasterCard International and Cirrus Systems Inc. on Sept. 20.
But once the tour ends with a three-month display at the National Museum of American History, tentatively scheduled to run Jan. 18 to April 7, the historical ATM's future is iffy.
No plans have been made to further showcase the machine after April 7. The symbol of worker empowerment will collect dust in a warehouse indefinitely after that.
But that seems to be par for the course at the Smithsonian. Less than 1% of the American History museum's million-item National Numismatics Collection, of which the machine is the newest acquisition, is available for public viewing.
"We could wallpaper the world with all the items we have in storage," said numismatics collection manager Thomas Bower. "People can request to see specific items. They're just not on permanent display."
Mr. Bower said renovations to the numismatics collection are planned for sometime in the next few years, and that the ATM and other bank machines would be a part of an expanded display. But nothing is certain.
The collection's exhibit takes up a corner of the museum's top floor. It has always included coins and bills dating as far back as the 7th century B.C. Recently, the Smithsonian has begun acquiring items like the ATM to illustrate the growth of electronic banking.
"This ATM is a perfect example of a technology that began in the 1960s and literally changed the way we do our financial transactions," said David Allison, chairman of the museum's division of information technology and society. "This 1977 model is typical of that era."
Mr. Bower agreed, saying that because of its unusual appearance, the machine would fit in at the homes of the Brady Bunch or Partridge Family as easily as a bank lobby.
"It's covered with fabric," Mr. Bower said. "I guess it was part of '70s design to run carpeting and fabric up their walls. I'm sure it was a perfectly-fine looking bank lobby, but it's not exactly an aesthetic pleasure now."
Mr. Bower said authentic old ATMs, attractively decorated or not, are difficult to come by.
Many end up being dumped in landfills as "outdated industrial junk" or recycled into newer-looking machines. However, the Smithsonian does have other bank machines - and some are even on display.
Just steps from a case holding such 1970s artifacts as Archie Bunker's chair and Fonzie's leather jacket are other pieces of the Smithsonian's future electronic banking exhibit.
In the flashy, interactive "Information Age" exhibit area, bulky, faded- gray machines that look more like the dashboard of a Boeing 747 than a modern money machine line a section dedicated to "Computers in Business." Innovations from the recent past like automated check-reading machines stand next to current, state-of-the-art touch-screen machines that represent the future of this expanding area.
"This is a real growing area that we needed to get into," Mr. Bower said. "Financially, electronic growth is potentially as significant as the change from gold coins to paper money and that was a real revolution."