April 12, 2007

Seeing a picture can bring back many memories. Some of them might be substantial thoughts, or as in this case very unsubstantial and in fact frivolous, and actually meandering. But all these thoughts and memories are plugged somewhere in our brains, big or small. I saw this picture of a New Yorker cover created in 1941, and it struck just the right note as to how it was in my young years. Whenever we saw someone with a tan in the winter, in the midwestern USA, we just knew they had to be rich.

But these days it is quite different. To create a winter tan you only have to go to the local tanning beds, or now some people even own their own. There is tanning lotion you can purchase that will create the illusion of a tan overnight, or for those times when you only want to create an illusion for a special moment there is body makeup that will do the trick. But in my youth seeing someone with a tan in the winter in my part of the midwest was a sure sign of wealth, and perhaps in 1941 that was true, because I don't think credit cards were yet thought of, so we had to actually live on what we earned week to week. Now that is going back isn't it.
AND SO IT BEGAN....as found in answers.com
Diners Club became the first credit card company in 1950, when it issued a card allowing members to charge meals at 27 New York City restaurants. In 1958, Bank of America issued the BankAmericard (now Visa), the first bank credit card. In 1965, only 5 million cards were in circulation; by 1996, U.S. consumers had nearly 1.4 billion cards, which they used to charge $991 billion in goods annually.
credit card Origin: 1888

Long before the first credit cards were issued in California in the 1950s, an American visionary of the nineteenth century imagined them. Not only that; he envisioned that a cashless society, using credit cards for purchases, would exist at the end of the twentieth century. Falling asleep in 1887, the narrator of Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward, published in 1888, wakes in the year 2000 to an America whose problems have been solved by getting rid of buying and selling. Instead, "A credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is given to every citizen on the public books at the beginning of each year, and a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it." It works for travel abroad too: "An American in Berlin [for example] takes his credit card to the local office of the international council, and receives in exchange for the whole or part of it a German credit card, the amount being charged against the United States in favor of Germany on the international account."

Bellamy's credit card is actually what we nowadays would call a debit card, one that draws from an established account. The plastic credit card first issued by California's Bank of America in 1956 was more radical. It did not require prepayment but offered the bank's own credit, instantly, for purchases at a great variety of participating businesses. With credit cards, businesses could offer customers the convenience of credit while the bank took the risk (and a percentage of the price).

We have a long way to go before reaching Bellamy's vision of a cashless society, and we are farther than ever from his vision of a society without banks, retailers, and advertising, but the end of the twentieth century has put credit cards in nearly everyone's hands, with accounts immediately accessible by computer almost anywhere in the world.

No comments: