Thursday, August 28, 2008


While we suspected that credit cards were first invented in the mid-1980s to exploit the growing number of late-night infomercials and our own unquenchable thirst for instant gratification, it turns out that the practice of splashing plastic was pioneered a good deal earlier.
Running the phrase "credit card history" through the new-fangled Yahoo! Search, we crossed our fingers and prayed we wouldn't be inundated with a long list of online credit-repair schemes. Happily, we met with the sweet beep of instant approval in the form of a snappy overview of credit through the ages.
It turns out that credit cards as we know them, good at multiple businesses, were first thrown down in 1951. That's when 200 brave, pre-approved souls were able to present their Diners Club cards at 27 different New York City restaurants and leave with the same amount of cash they walked in with.
According to credit card lore, in 1949, Frank McNamara went to dinner at Major's Cabin Grill and forgot his wallet. After talking his way out of doing the dishes to cover his tab, McNamara thought, "Never again!" In February of 1950, he and a partner founded Diners Club and returned to Major's with a small cardboard card. Frank signed for dinner, without a hassle, and the event was eventually dubbed "the First Supper."
A quick Yahoo! Image Search led us to a nice reproduction of an early Diners Club card and an explanation from the Smithsonian Institution about how money has evolved over the past 100 years. They report that credit cards added the now ubiquitous magnetic stripe in the 1970s and that the rise of plastic ended the production of all banknotes larger than $100.

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