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Charge It

“We are in a consumer credit explosion—a revolution in modern banking.”

Garrison A. Southard Jr., executive manager of the California Bankcard Association, 1967

Consumer credit expanded in the 1950s and 1960s. Banks introduced the universal bankcard that allowed consumers to charge goods and services to one account and pay off the debt over time. While credit cards allowed more people to buy more things, they were not available equally to women and racial minorities until the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act. They remained out of reach for the poor for decades.

Credit card imprinter, about 1960

Before the introduction of the magnetic strip that fed sales information to networked computers, this machine allowed merchants to transfer account information from cards to receipts.

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Original drawing, “Credit Card Cornucopia,” by Frank Modell, about 1964

Original drawing, “Credit Card Cornucopia,” by Frank Modell, about 1964

Credit Cards

What’s in your wallet? By the late 1960s, millions of American wallets held durable, plastic cards with the name of a bank on the front and terms of service on the back. Networked cards that linked credit to new computer systems and tracked debt appeared in the late 1960s.

Charga-Plate in Red Leather Case, 1950s

Diners' Club Credit Card, 1955

Gourmet's Guest Club Credit Card, 1955

Gourmet's Guest Club Directory, 1957
Esquire Club Credit Card, 1957

Diners' Club Australia Credit Card, 1957

Diners' Club Credit Card, 1957

Washington Shopping Plate Credit Card

American Express Card, 1970s

First & Merchants BankAmericard Visa, 1978

First & Merchants BankMaster Charge Card, 1978


Cartoonists commented on the “credit card fever” of the 1950s and 1960s. Collected by Alfred Bloomingdale, one of the founders of Diners’ Club, these cartoons debated the various uses, and abuses, of credit cards. In 1960, this series of original drawings by Ted Key, “Number 467-821," warned consumers of the dangers of overspending.