Credit cards are a popular form of payment that has become so ubiquitous that many people don’t even realize they didn’t always exist. As you might expect, the first credit card was used for a fairly mundane purpose: to buy groceries.
The history of credit cards is surprisingly long, stretching all the way back to some pretty interesting characters like Thomas Ploughman and Ralph T. Mawdsley.
The First Recorded Use of a Credit Card
If you’re wondering when were credit cards invented, the first recorded use of a credit card took place in California in 1939 when a man named James Henry Hammond used one to buy oil, gas, and food at his local store. He was able to use it again the following week when he purchased a plane ticket to Europe. By 1941 he was using his credit card to pay for trips to resorts around the United States.
It wasn’t until 1950 that businesses began accepting credit cards as payment via mail order catalogs. Even then, they were still only accepted by a small number of retailers and service providers across America (and Canada).
“Buy Now and Pay Later”
In 1887, the first credit card was issued to a New York lawyer named Frank McNamara. It wasn’t actually a credit card at all; it was more like a billfold with two sides and a leather divider that separated his money from his business cards.
The Diners Club issued this “bank check” to McNamara so he could pay for meals at restaurants across the city without carrying cash. The concept caught on and soon other businesses started accepting these bank checks as payment for goods and services instead of cash or checks.
The Diners Club Card is the First Modern Credit Card
According to the experts at SoFi, “The first international credit card is claimed to be the Diners Club card, mentioned above. It’s said to have become the first globally accepted charge card in 1953 when businesses in Cuba, Mexico, and Canada began accepting payments from those with Diners Club cards. And in 1970, Bank of America rolled its BankAmericard on a global scale, prompting the formation of the International Bankcard Company.”
Credit Card’s rise
Credit cards are widely used today, but the history of credit cards dates back to the 1950s. The first credit card was introduced by Diners Club in 1950, followed by American Express (1952) and Carte Blanche (1968).
The rise in popularity of credit cards reached its peak during the 70s and 80s. During this time, more banks became comfortable with issuing unsecured bank accounts that allowed consumers to access money via paper checks or debit cards. Credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa also started to expand their reach globally as people began traveling around more frequently for business purposes or vacations abroad.
Credit cards have been around for a long time, but they weren’t always available to everyone. The first credit card was developed in 1950 by Bank of America, and it took another decade before the rest of the banks caught up. Nowadays, almost every person has at least one or two credit cards in their wallet.