Merchants handing out credit may be as old as time itself but it can be said that credit cards likely had their origins back in the 19th century.
In the early part of the 1800s, merchants and financial establishments extended credit for many types of services and goods. It was some time around the early part of the 1900s that individual department stores began issuing their own cards to identify their more credit deserving patrons. The idea caught on like hotcakes as it was a simple way to identify credit worthy customers. In fact many establishments also accepted the store credit cards of their competition as a sign of creditworthiness. Through the use of cards such as this, many business becan to build huge and stable customer bases cenered around the use of these cards.
Diner's Club introduced the first true chage card in 1949. A card that could be accepted by not just one merchant, but many merchants who have agreed to join this particular acceptance network. The DinersClub card was intended to target a new class of social elite to offer customers the ability to charge expenses generally related to travel, dining, and entertainment. Diners Club earned 7% of the total amount charged from any merchant who agreed to accept their card. It was discovered by many merchants who accepted this card that they in turn actually received more business from persons due to the fact that they were extending credit for use of their service. It was not long after the success of Diners Club that many imitators began to join the marketplace as well..
California of the late 1950s saw Bank of America issue the first true credit card. Because of banking laws and restrictions of the time, most banking institutions were not allowed to function outside the confines of their home state. This for several years stunned the growth of the credit card industry. In order for a national card to be established that could compete with the likes of Diners Card, a new system of organization had to be established. At first Bank of America maintained this complex paper trail that had to follow all the various member banks and was overly complicated and labor intensive. Through trial and error, Bank of America eventually allowed it's credit card business to spin off on it's own and more efficient means of handling authorizations and approving charges was established. This network eventually evolved into the network we know as VISA today.
IN 1966 the network that would later evolve into what is now known as MasterCard came into being. In the decade prior to this, In 1958, American Express launched it's own network. Over the years many other types of cards came into being including the Discover credit card that was started by Sears, Roebuck and Co. back in 1986. As the restrictive nature of interstate banking began to change. more credit card networks were established that were to remain with us until the present day.
The various card networks were faced with a challenge to bring together these various merchant members and cardholders together. At first many merchants were reluctant to promote or accept these credit cards as they were competing with their own store issued credit cards from their perspective. Still many smaller venders felt that by accepting these new general purpose credit cards that they could themselves compete with the larger retailers.