iCredit cards went big in 1950. The idea of a credit card was revolutionary as it promised to change the entire notion of dealing. The opening of the 1951 article in the Times Magazine embodied the true impact of this innovative concept:
“Unlike other mortals, the 42,000 members of the Diners’ Club need never pay the waiter when they wind up a spirited evening on the town. They simply sign the check, get billed once a month.”
65 years later, a credit card is just routine stuff for more than 70 percent American population.
How did Credit Cards go Big?
In 1888, Edward Bellamy authored a book titled Looking Backward, 2000-1887. The time-travel themed novel introduced the concept of a ‘credit card.’ However, Bellamy’s idea of the credit card resembled the modern concept of a Debit Card. It was nothing like the credit cards we use today.
However, the idea of consumer credit dates far back. Lewis Mandell, the writer of The Credit Card Industry: A History said in his statement:
“It’s characteristic of agrarian societies. They very often have to finance agricultural operations by borrowing money for seed and other things to keep them going until harvest.”
Later, some of the richer patrons asked the local stores to open their accounts as they didn’t want to carry cash around with them. However, rapid urbanisation and the trend of supermarts made it difficult to keep track of dealings in a ledger and to trust the customers to pay off their bills. Thus, customer identification numbers were introduced to confirm the client’s identity. Each ID was unique to one store only and in a way was the first form of the consumer credit.
In 1914, Western Union launched the ‘metal money’. It was a signed metal plate given to a few, selected patrons to use as a credit card. Ten years down the road, General Petroleum Corporation issued similar metal plates to the businesses that allowed them to defer payment. Some years later, the Charge-plate was launched that allowed the sales clerk to record the embossed information on the card.
In 1946, Flatbush National Bank of Brooklyn, NY, introduced ‘Charg-It,’ a system that allowed the people to charge purchases to the bank in the radius of two square blocks using a card issued by the bank. In 1950 came the Diner’s Club card. It was the first independent card company founded by Frank X. McNamara and Ralph Schneider. Alfred Bloomingdale soon joined their ranks as he launched a similar card.
The fever of the Diner’s Club card caught quickly. It went from 200 patrons and 14 NYC restaurants to 42,000 card holders and collaboration with 330 establishments in just 12 months. The entire idea of Credit changed. The Times report in 1958 stated:
“Credit, which was once the sign that a person had trouble meeting his bills, has taken on a glamorous new meaning in recent years. Now a man with a credit card can rent a plane or boat or car, live it up in nightclubs, take a safari to Africa and even get a Kelly Girl for temporary office help. Why? Because of the Credit Card Game.”
Once the idea was popular, the competition began to pour in. The companies like American Express who were well-known for their traveller’s check began to diversify and entered the credit card market. The Bank of America mailed more than 60,000 BankAmericards (later Visa) to the residents of Fresno California.
Today, the modern payment systems like Apple Pay are on the rise and it appears like the era of credit cards is coming to an end. However, Mandell differs from the general opinion:
“Most people feel that credit cards may not have much of a future, but people have been saying that now for over 50 years.”
Do you think the credit cards will survive the onslaught of modern technology? Let us know in comments!