A Brief History of Credit Cards

How long have they been around? Who invented them? And how did they become such a large component of our everyday life? The answers might shock you.

The Credit Coin

In the 1800s, a clever merchant came up with the idea of handing out credit coins to farmers who didn’t have financial means. Once the farmers completed their harvest or sold their cattle, they were able to repay the merchants and return the credit coin.

The Creation of Charg-It Cards

In 1946 Brooklyn New York, a man by the name of John Biggins created Charg-It cards. They were given to clients to make local purchases. The bill would then be forwarded to Biggin’s bank.

In five years, New York’s National Bank invented the first ever interest charge for it’s customers.

Who is Frank McNamara?

In 1950, Frank McNamara forgot his wallet while attending a business dinner. A few month later, he returned to the establishment with his partner Ralph Schneider. Together they pitched the idea of a “card with credit” while holding a cardboard prototype. This card would be the solution for forgetful customers. Their pitch would result in the launch of the Diner Club Card. However, cardholders had to fully pay back the card every month, so although they were called credit cards, they were modern-day charge cards. By 1951, there were more than 20,00 Diner Club Card holders.

American Express Joins The Game

In 1958, came a completely different player. American Express began implementing money orders and traveler’s check in the past to compete with the U.S. Postal Service. It wouldn’t be until 1959, that American Express would launch its first plastic card. Five years later, there would be 1 million American Express cards in use with over 85,000 merchants.

In the coming years, other banks began launching their own version of credit cards. Different features began to develop like roll over, cashback, and interest rates.

Where does Visa fall into all of this?

Bank of America entered the credit card game in 1958. They mailed out unsolicited BankAmericard, an early version of what we would know as the Visa card. Eight years later, the BankAmericard went national to become the nation’s first licensed general credit card. The BankAmericard then got renamed to Visa as a way to acknowledge its growing international market.

The Future of Credit Cards

It took over a century to develop and create the modern-day credit card. So, what can we expect in the next coming years? Apple launched a virtual credit card in the form of an app called Apple Pay. In the upcoming years, credit cards may become virtual and the physical polymer based card will become obsolete.

Perchance in another century, we’ll no longer need to carry around anything, for we will become our very own credit cards. With the insertion of a chip, possibly DNA, or facial recognition might allow us to pay for goods with merely our bodies.