Who Invented Credit Cards?

Who invented credit cards?

With payday still two weeks away, no food in my cupboard and a recently developed need to buy the same watch that Jay Z was wearing in his most recent music video – I’m in quite a predicament!

Frank McNamara - Creator of the credit card
Frank McNamara - Creator of the credit card

Well I would be in quite a predicament if I didn’t have my credit card! The little plastic card that lets me buy everything that I want and need without having the money on hand, the little card that gives me time before the repayments are due - all I have to do is swipe it and sign, key in my PIN number or even just PayPass and the goods that I want are mine. 

As I signed my name at the jewellers after Veronica (the lovely shop attendant) helped me to find the watch, which she confirmed that I absolutely did need, I found myself wondering ‘who invented credit cards?’

I soon discovered that there was actually more than one answer to this question!

Frank McNamara

Since the 1700’s there has been the concept of buy now and pay later – credit! It wasn’t until 1950 that the first actual credit card, the Diners Club card, came into being. Frank McNamara invented the card which was intended for use in restaurants by members of the Diners Club. The member would use their card and the Diners club would pay the bill and the member could reimburse them later.

Frank’s idea became so popular that within the year the card which was originally intended for the 200 club members to use in less than 30 restaurants, had gained a staggering 20,000 customers and could be used at almost any restaurant and even some retail outlets. The idea caught on.

John Biggins

Frank’s idea wasn’t completely original though because in 1946 a banker named John Biggins had invented a ‘charge-it’ programme in which a salesperson could charge a sale to the bank for the customer. The customer would then obtain the goods and make the necessary repayments to the bank. Like Frank’s idea this too started off local and within a number of years had exploded into an international phenomenon.

American Express and Visa (originally the BankAmerica card) both released their first credit cards in 1958 to be followed shortly by many other competitors including MasterCard, the Discover Card and JCB.

So I guess that Frank and John both invented the credit card although people have been using the idea of credit from long before these guys were even born.

This post was originally published in May 2011 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.