TRIVIAL PURSUITS: What was the first credit card in America?

But, when did the first credit card appear in America, and who or what was the issuer?

According to CreditCard.com, in the early 1900s, oil companies and department stores issued their own proprietary cards, which were accepted only at the business that issued the card and in limited locations.

The first bank card, named “Charg-It,” was introduced in 1946 by John Biggins, a banker in Brooklyn, according to MasterCard. When a customer used it for a purchase, the bill was forwarded to Biggins’ bank. The bank reimbursed the merchant and obtained payment from the customer. Purchases could only be made locally, and Charg-It cardholders had to have an account at Biggins’ bank. In 1951, the first bank credit card appeared in New York’s Franklin National Bank for loan customers. It also could be used only by the bank’s account holders.

The Diners Club Card was the next step in credit cards. According to a representative from Diners Club, the story began in 1949 when a man named Frank McNamara had a business dinner in New York’s Major’s Cabin Grill. When the bill arrived, Frank realized he’d forgotten his wallet. He managed to find his way out of the pickle, but he decided there should be an alternative to cash. McNamara and his partner, Ralph Schneider, returned to Major’s Cabin Grill in February of 1950 and paid the bill with a small, cardboard card. Coined the Diners Club Card and used mainly for travel and entertainment purposes, it claims the title of the first credit card in widespread use.

In 1958 American Express joined the credit card industry with its own product, a purple charge card for travel and entertainment expenses. In 1959, American Express introduced the first card made of plastic (previous cards were made of cardboard or celluloid).

The first general-purpose credit card debuted in 1966, when Bank of America established the BankAmerica Service Corporation that franchised the BankAmericard brand (later to be known as Visa) to banks nationwide.