The first ever mention of the credit card came from Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward, written in 1888, well before the cards actual existence.  The use of the credit card in America has spread tremendously in recent years because of a large market base and consumerist society.  It is hard not to find a credit card in the wallet of the average adult American, but why is it necessary for everyone to carry a card and how did America get so involved in the its use? This semester we will explore the history of the credit card, its antecedents, invention, and impact on American culture and society.

Prior to America’s involvement in World War I the use of cards to purchase goods on store credit was quite common. Hotels, oil companies, and department stores alike offered these cards for use at their businesses, but could not be used elsewhere. It was not until 1949 that Frank McNamara came up with the idea of what was the precursor to today’s credit card, the Diner’s Club Card. These ‘charge cards’ as they were called were used at various New York restaurants to charge credit for upper class patrons of the establishments. Users were no longer limited to using their cards at one location. Though McNamara’s card was revolutionary it could only be used in one industry.

Many credit businesses jumped on McNamara’s idea and soon began developing their own credit cards for use in certain markets.  Even banks dipped their pockets into the new industry, but it was not until 1958 that Bank of America developed the first universal credit card. Yet another problem arose, Bank of America’s card could only be used in California at the time.  Realizing that they needed to expand their markets like Bank of America, credit card companies such as American Express began offering their cards nationally and to multiple markets by late 1958.  The credit card fever caught on fast and 1960 American Express had over 750,000 customers and a charge volume of $500 million dollars. The credit card was officially here to stay and consume America’s society and culture in one swipe.

The use of the credit card completely changed the consumer market of the United States. After the invention of the card Americans were able to buy more and purchase expensive items at a much faster rate than thought before.  The card allowed consumers to purchase products they could not afford with their annual salary or income. Though credit was around well before the card, it allowed more access to those credits and made it easier for them to obtain it. The credit card helped make America into the high mass consumer society it is today. Nowadays with the introduction of computerization credit card holders are now able to make credit purchases through the Internet and is starting to make the card itself obsolete. Furthermore, smartphones equipped with credit card applications now allow consumers to use their phone in place of the card to make purchases. As fast as the credit card hit the American market it may soon be an object of the past.

The basic structure of the blog-site will be divided into the following categories: the antecedents, invention, impact on American, and the future of the card. Each page link is located under the home screen image for easy use of the visitor. The home page will feature weekly updates on the project after week five of the semester. Furthermore, visitors of the site will have the opportunity to post comments on the blog at their willingness. Along with the website a short documentary will examine the history and impact of the credit card.

The documentary will include various pictures and short clips of the cards invention and how Frank McNamara came about the idea of the credit card. Additionally the film will explore the cards impact on American culture and society, and why Americans are so obsessed with its use. We will be using Final Cut to produce and edit the pictures and clips to make documentary

The topic of choice came about after the disapproval of several topics first chosen by the group. We were able to narrow our choice to two topics, the gas mask and the credit card.  After some preliminary research the credit card held more information suitable for the project than the gas mask. We decided to pursue the credit card after Dr. McClurken’s approval.



Annotated Bibliography

“Credit Card” American History 44, no. 6 (February 2010): 17.

This is an article in the periodical American History. Though short it goes over the invention of the Diner Club Card and the how the use of the credit card has expanded since its invention.

Evans, David S., and Richard Schmalensee. Paying with Plastic: The Digital Revolution in Buying and Borrowing. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.

Not only does Evans’s and Schmalensee’s book have an in depth look into the history of the credit card, but also goes into detail of the cards are used and who uses them. Also the book explores the evolution of the card and how far we have come with them.

“Extra Credit.” Chronicle of Higher Education 55, no. 42 (July 24, 2009): A34-A35.

This article goes over the history of the credit card and the development of its use since its invention. Additionally the article explores the increase in America debt after the invention of the universal credit card.

Ferguson, Niall., The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. City of       Westminster, London: Penguin Books, 2009.

The Ascent of Money speak to how money has evolved over the history of the world in general. It also speaks to the importance of access to money, including credit in our generation.

Klein, Lloyd. It’s In the Cards: Consumer Credit and the American Experience. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999.

The book covers how the credit card has changed American society and culture. Klein’s work also explores how cultural values in America have changed as a result of the credit card.

L.L. “He led the ‘charge it’ charge. (Cover Story).” U.S. News & World Report 127, no. 25 (December 27, 1999): 62-65.

The article above explains how Frank McNamara developed the idea for the first credit card, the Diners Club Card, and its impact on America.

Mandell, Lewis. The Credit Card Industry: A History. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

The book is coming in through interlibrary loans at the moment. Though it does not cover the actual card, but instead the industry behind it and how it has developed.

Manning, Robert D. Credit Card Nation: The Consequences of America’s Addiction to Credit. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Manning’s book was a study done to examine the consequences with America’s use of the credit card. The book does have a chapter explaining problems associated with credit card use of college students.

“Plastic Smiles” New Internationalist no. 392 (August 2006): 17.

“Plastic Smiles” goes over the antecedents of the credit card and the development of its use prior to the U.S. involvement in World War I.

Shepherdson, Nancy. “Credit Card America.” American Heritage 42, no. 7: 125.

Shepherdson’s article explores why stores and consumers caught onto the credit card trend. Explains the issues involved in the use of credit cards, especially woman.

Stephey, M.J. “A Brief History of: Credit Cards.” Time 173, no. 17 (May 4, 2009): 16.

The article reports how computerization caused wide spread usage of the credit card in the 1970’s and 1980’s