Saturday, October 29, 2011

Invention of the Day: Credit Card system

Bloomberg recently published an article with a brief history of money, describing the transition from coins to credit cards. The credit card piece caught my attention because of its American roots:
The modern credit card is an American creation, devised in the credit boom following World War II. First came the Diners Club card, introduced in 1950. Then, in 1958, the BankAmericard, ancestor of Visa, and the first universal credit card issued by a bank and generally accepted by a large number of businesses. But only in the 1990s did credit cards become truly global, widespread beyond North America and the U.K.
Of course, a credit card isn’t itself money, but a way of spending it, moving it and promising it. With credit and debit cards, money has lost its materiality. It can be called up virtually anywhere in the world instantaneously.
After some digging, I found a US Patent issued in 1923 describing the concept of a credit card system, which is really close to the one we've got today. Here's how the inventor envisioned the credit card:

20 years later another patent mentions the connection between credit card and travel.
Many business institutions, of which commercial air lines and the retailers of gasoline, oil and like supplies for automotive vehicles to the motoring public are an example, have a large number of outlets or places of business, frequently scattered over a wide territory, from any one of which credit may be extended to customers. In order that this may be done, the customers are usually furnished with an identification, commonly referred to as a credit card, bearing, among other things, the name and address of the customer entitled to the use of the same.

Only with the proliferation of computers and cheap long-distant communications, the credit card business took off in the 1960-1970s.

tags: s-curve, infrastructure, business, money, system, evolution,

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