1980: A behind the scenes look at how checks were processed

Posted at 5:30 AM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 05:30:36-04

INDIANAPOLIS — When was the last time you wrote a check? Furthermore, do you even have a checkbook?

Payment apps like Apple Pay, Venmo, Zelle, and even Facebook Messenger, have transformed the way we send money. Most transactions are completed with just a few taps.

But that was hardly the case in the heyday of check writing.

Former WRTV anchor and reporter Clyde Lee visited Indiana National Bank in April 1980 to get a behind-the-scenes look at what went into processing a check.

Writing the check was the first and perhaps the easiest step in the process.

From there, the checks were placed into bags delivered to a processing facility.

Each bag was logged and weighed to get an estimate of the number of checks inside.

The next stop was the proof department.

Here, the checks were separated into bundles and each bundle contained all of the checking transactions from every teller in the banking system.

An operator logged the checks using a proof machine. This accomplishes two things: First, it provided a running total of all of the checks so that the totals could be compared against the teller’s register tape. Second, it printed a number on the check which included information like the check amount and a tracking number.

Proof machine operators were capable of processing 1,100 checks per hour.

The completed batches of checks were then taken to a separate room where they were organized by two computers.

IBM 3890 reader/sorter machines organized the checks before copying them to another computer which would store long-term records of your account.

It wasn’t unusual for Indiana National to process more than 200 thousand checks per day.