A Visual History Of Credit Cards From 1951-Today

Credit cards weren’t always the adorable little pocket debt machines that they are today. They weren’t even plastic until AmEx decided to class things up in 1959. Travel back to the good old days when credit cards were a “ticket for anyone to spend freely and decide when was best to pay it back” with this revealing photo set from Slate.

A visual history of the credit card. [The Big Money]

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  1. EdnaLegume says:

    awww wouldn’t it be cool if they brought back ‘retro’ style cards. i’d go further into debt if it made me look cool.

  2. henwy says:

    “People are picking out a card because they can have a picture of a cat on it rather than looking at the terms,”

    Because people are stupid and cats are the handmaidens of satan

  3. Jason Gooljar says:

    A lot has changed for that cute little Diner’s Club card. Now they are a grown up corporation big and strong! They can now support human trafficking!

    [humantrafficking.change.org]

  4. Skankingmike says:

    I don’t know maybe it was because my family was shit poor, but I thought Credit cards were hard as hell to get at least in the 80′s.

    Either way great article find.

    And the only thing I care about is my APR and praying it doesn’t go up on my citi card.

    • CaptainSemantics says:

      @Skankingmike: When I was growing up in the 80s, I, too, thought that credit cards were some holy grail of spending. But the more I look back on it, it’s because my parents abhorred the thought of getting a credit card. They had their mortgage, their car payment, and that was it credit-wise. If we didn’t save up for something, we didn’t have it.

      Why am I starting to sound like my grandparents?

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @CaptainSemantics: My parents had cards but refused to use them for things like gas and food — only durable goods. So that if they couldn’t pay it off one month, they wouldn’t be paying interest on a consumable. My attitude towards credit cards was similar for years.

    • azntg says:

      @Skankingmike: Credit cards were pretty hard to get in the late ’80′s.

      I still recall my dad’s story on how he got his first credit card in the late ’80′s. For his troubles, he ended up with a Citibank Visa Classic with a $300 credit limit. He still has the original card too.

    • weave says:

      @Skankingmike: I had no problem in the 80s getting one. I’ve been a “member” of Amex since 1982 — when I was 22. I was in college at the time and only had a part-time job at a grocery store. Amex marketed pretty heavily in colleges. I got a citibank card shortly thereafter.

      • "I Like Potatoes" says:

        @weave: Yup – I got mine in college too – back in 1988. I didn’t even have a job but Capital One was at my campus recruiting us clueless college students. I had it paid off by the time I got married and then we managed to run it up again. I just cancelled that card last year. Hard to believe I had it for 20 years but I guess they knew exactly what they were doing. I wonder if they are still recruiting college campuses as hard as they once were?

        • Skankingmike says:

          @changed my name: @weave: You both hit that nail on the head, college.

          My parents never went, crap my dad never graduated high school the dead beat.

          I think that’s why they did not actually have cards (though my mom might have i know she had a Macy’s card but I’m not sure when that happened maybe the 90′s)

          The did buy a townhouse so I’m not sure exactly how they couldn’t get a credit card..

          @CaptainSemantics: It’s cool i end up sounding more like my stepfather who’s 67 everyday and it scares me.

  5. AluminumFalcon_GitEmSteveDave says:

    Maybe I’m biased b/c they were my old bosses, but there should at least be a mention of MBNA in there, IMHO.

  6. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    That was a near article, thanks for posting.

  7. MedicallyNeedy says:

    A friend of mine dug up a “Lit Borthers” brass credit medallion along w some other goodies circa early 1900′s
    [en.wikipedia.org]

    • xmarc says:

      I’m surprised they weren’t mentioned in the history. I think they were called “charge plates”. I wish I could find some of those that my parents had. I’m sure they’re collectibles now.

      • vildechaia says:

        Whoa – charge plates!! That brought back some great memories. Got my first one in 1964 from Marshall Field’s in Chicago; that was in the days when very few women had credit in their own names; I still remember the number. Carson Pirie Scott also had charge plates, as did the Crawford Dept. Store. I’m sure I still have them in the “miscellaneous” drawer! @xmarc:

        • Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

          @vildechaia:
          I wish I had my mom’s old metal charge plate that was good at Mandel Bros., Marshall Field’s, Carson’s, The Hub & The Fair.
          It was an Addressograph plate & came in a leather sleeve.
          It’s supposed to be the second most valuable credit card to collectors.
          Worth several hundred $$$!
          Only the paper Amex card from the 50s is worth more.

          And does anyone remember the original Sears cards which were a weird rectangular size, much longer & narrower than today’s cards?

    • bohemian says:

      @MedicallyNeedy: I would love to see a picture of the medallion. That wiki article makes me miss the old flagship stores of some of the old department stores. I wish companies would embrace these buildings for what they really are rather than trying to cover them up. Why yes Macy’s I am looking at you. They have not been kind to the Dayton’s flagship building in downtown Mpls.

      @Munchie: The binding arbitration was some thugs showing up at your door to hit you in the knees with a bat.

  8. Munchie says:

    Wonder is there is a mandatory binding arbritation clause on the reverse side

    • henwy says:

      @Munchie:

      Probably wasn’t necessary back then because people actually paid their bills.

      • Skaperen says:

        @henwy: MBA doesn’t do much good when people fail to pay. Where MBA helps is preventing people from suing the credit card company when the credit card company acts irresponsibly. By adding MBA terms, the companies can open the way to doing things that would before get them stiff judgments in court.

  9. bohemian says:

    I remember as a very young kid my mom having a JcPenney charge card, a Sears card and a few years later a Master Card. They also had an account at the local drug store. But this was also in the days before ATMs. The purpose back then seems to be to consolidate everything into bills that could be paid by check at the end of the month. My mom never went to the bank, my dad was the one that did. It seems more like an accounting efficiency than a buy it on credit thing.

    I also remember the first ATMs in the late 70′s. They were like magic but they ate your cards all the time.

    Everthing seemed to change at some point in the 80′s with cards. That was about the time South Dakota purged all of their usury laws, consumer laws and all the banks moved in. That was also about the time they started giving cards to college kids.

    • SacraBos says:

      @bohemian: I had an ATM card in 79. In Oklahoma they have “CheckOKard” and “SCS” as the two main networks. I deposited checks and made withdrawls via a local bank’s machine to my bank across the state. Different banks. No fees. Those were the days.

      • CFinWV says:

        @SacraBos: I remember a halloween costume during elementary school where I was a MAC machine, you deposited the candy in a slot and it fell into my bag. That was circa ’79-’80. =)

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @bohemian: But if ’80s college kids didn’t have credit cards, how did they buy music off the iTunes Music Store?!

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        @Trai_Dep: You jest, but I have a young cousin who honestly believes that we must have had things like mp3s, facebook and internet-enabled mobiles when I was her age, since that’s all she’s ever known. I talk about records, parties and rotary wall phones and she looks at me like I’m insane.

  10. weave says:

    Here’s some old department store credit cards…

    [www.flickr.com]

  11. Coles_Law says:

    “As the story goes, 60 years ago, Frank McNamara, the founder of what’s considered the first credit card, was eating out at a restaurant, and when the check arrived, he realized that he had not brought along his wallet. The embarrassing situation led him to eventually create the Diners Club card”

    …which also would have done no good if he forgot his wallet.

  12. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    my ex boyfriend’s grandmother has the best credit card number EVER for her diner’s club card: it was whatever number of 0′s ending in 42. she used to send him out with it to fill her car up with gas. she’s ancient and was one of their first customers. i have no idea why they never made her change it, maybe because they grandfathered in all the early accounts when they made changes.

  13. gauden44 says:

    I’ve had a credit card since 1986–the year I was born. I don’t know how, but it was on my credit report and it was in good standing, lol. I think it was a JC Penney’s card.

  14. Ben_Q2 says:

    I have what would become a CC from 1100 give or take. Knights Templar CC only if you do not pay them back your feet and sword arm better be good. I found it when I was looking at some Templar armor I had just bought.

  15. Cliff_Donner says:

    All those photos of credit cards with CC numbers exposed — I wonder if the more current ones are accounts that never existed, or we’re just relying on the fact that the expiration date has passed? Can’t help but think of the Consumerist article Chase Reactivates Dead Card Without Your Permission. Robert Roth or Sue Guerrera could be in for a nasty surprise.

    Also, love the third slide of the AmEx card for John J. Smith of the Acme Company at “I23 Main Street” (the letter “I” being typed for the number “1″). I remember back in the late ’80s working in an office where the where a secretary had been entering data into the computer for months, consistently typing “I” instead of “1.” I think some older typewriters didn’t have a key for the number “1″ so using the letter “I” instead was pretty common. For computer data entry, doesn’t work so well.

    • Cliff_Donner says:

      @Cliff_Donner: “where the where?” What the — ?

    • econobiker says:

      @Cliff_Donner: Nothing better than managing a line of (inter)nationally sold heavy duty tractor/trailer truck parts line in which a certain customer had generated the part number 10099-K1T (K-one-T) for our company’s part number 10099-KIT (K-eye-T) when we were selling a replacement hardware kit for the application. That one always got us…

  16. CFinWV says:

    Freaky, I grew up near the address on that Diner’s Card.

  17. Laura Northrup says:

    @Trai_Dep: I was certain for a minute that it was describing how people choose which Consumerist articles to read.

  18. Yoko Broke Up The Beatles says:

    I still have my original credit card account open….from all the way back in 1999. Ancient!

    • econobiker says:

      @Yoko Broke Up The Beatles: Funny, I have one from 1987/88 though I cannot remember if the card # was changed over the years due to security issues.

      I wonder who has the oldest account still open?

      Anyone remember the guy with like 500 credit active credit cards which he had in a huge wallet foldout?

  19. henwy says:

    @Trai_Dep: There are no male cats. Or female cats for that matter. They may look like they have sex but they actually reproduce by budding the elemental forces of evil within them.

  20. William Brinkman says:

    @AluminumFalcon_GitEmSteveDave: Don’t take this the wrong way, but did you post that so I’ll feel worse for offering rebuttals to your posts?

    • Auto-Erotic_GitEmSteveDave-ation says:

      @William Brinkman: Nope. But why would you feel worse? Because she dumped me for a blind guy? Or that she’s the one who knocked my teeth out

      a href=”#c13420488″>Trai_Dep: There’s blurry bits? I think that’s hair……

  21. geoffhazel says:

    There are no pictures of all the old-school store credit cards. My mom had accounts at Teppers and Bambergers (two local department stores) in Plainfield, NJ. The charge “plates” were about the size of a business card, but a bit less tall and a bit longer, with embossed numbers and name like today’s cards. This is circa 1960.