Bartering and Commodity Money
In the beginning, people bartered. Barter is the exchange of a good or service for another good or service, a bag of rice for a bag of beans. However, what if you couldn't agree what something was worth in exchange or you didn't want what the other person had. To solve that problem humans developed what is called commodity money.
A commodity is a basic item used by almost everyone. In the past, salt, tea, tobacco, cattle and seeds were commodities and therefore were once used as money. However, using commodities as money had other problems. Carrying bags of salt and other commodities was hard, and commodities were difficult to store or were perishable.
Coins and Paper Money
Metals objects were introduced as money around 5000 B.C. By 700 BC, the Lydians became the first in the Western world to make coins. Countries were soon minting their own series of coins with specific values. Metal was used because it was readily available, easy to work with and could be recycled. Since coins were given a certain value, it became easier to compare the cost of items people wanted.
Some of the earliest known paper money dates back to China, where the issue of paper money became common from about AD 960 onwards.
With the introduction of paper currency and non-precious coinage, commodity money evolved into representative money. This meant that what money itself was made of no longer had to be very valuable.
Representative money was backed by a government or bank's promise to exchange it for a certain amount of silver or gold. For example, the old British Pound bill or Pound Sterling was once guaranteed to be redeemable for a pound of sterling silver.
For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the majority of currencies were based on representative money through the use of the gold standard.
Representative money has now been replaced by fiat money. Fiat is the Latin word for "let it be done". Money is now given value by a government fiat or decree, in other words enforceable legal tender laws were made. By law the refusal of "legal tender" money in favor of some other form of payment is illegal.
The origin of the "$" money sign is not certain. Many historians trace the $ money sign to either the Mexican or Spanish "P's" for pesos, or piastres, or pieces of eight. The study of old manuscripts shows that the "S," gradually came to be written over the "P," looking very much like the "$" mark.
U.S. Money Trivia
On March 10, 1862 the first United States paper money was issued. The denominations were $5, $10, and $20. They became legal tender by Act of March 17, 1862. The inclusion of "In God We Trust" on all currency was required by law in 1955. The national motto first appeared on paper money in 1957 on $1 Silver Certificates, and on all Federal Reserve Notes beginning with Series 1963.
ERMA began as a project for the Bank of America in an effort to computerize the banking industry. MICR (magnetic ink character recognition) was part of ERMA. MICR allowed computers to read special numbers at the bottom of checks that allowed computerized tracking and accounting of check transactions.
Credit is a method of selling goods or services without the buyer having cash in hand. A credit card is only an automatic way of offering credit to a consumer. Today, every credit card carries an identifying number that speeds shopping transactions. Imagine what a credit purchase would be like without it, the sales person would have to record your identity, billing address, and terms of repayment.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "the use of credit cards originated in the United States during the 1920s, when individual firms, such as oil companies and hotel chains, began issuing them to customers." However, references to credit cards have been made as far back as 1890 in Europe. Early credit cards involved sales directly between the merchant offering the credit and credit card, and that merchant's customer. Around 1938, companies started to accept each other's cards. Today, credit cards allow you to make purchases with countless third parties.
The Shape of Credit Cards
Credit cards were not always been made of plastic. There have been credit tokens made from metal coins, metal plates, and celluloid, metal, fiber, paper, and now mostly plastic cards.
First Bank Credit Card
The inventor of the first bank issued credit card was John Biggins of the Flatbush National Bank of Brooklyn in New York. In 1946, Biggins invented the "Charge-It" program between bank customers and local merchants. Merchants could deposit sales slips into the bank and the bank billed the customer who used the card.
Diners Club Credit Card
In 1950, the Diners Club issued their credit card in the United States. The Diners Club credit card was invented by Diners' Club founder Frank McNamara and it was intended to pay restaurant bills. A customer could eat without cash at any restaurant that would accept Diners' Club credit cards. Diners' Club would pay the restaurant and the credit card holder would repay Diners' Club. The Diners Club card was at first technically a charge card rather than a credit card since the customer had to repay the entire amount when billed by Diners Club.
American Express issued their first credit card in 1958. Bank of America issued the BankAmericard (now Visa) bank credit card later in 1958.
The Popularity of Credit Cards
Credit cards were first promoted to traveling salesmen (more common in that era) for use on the road. By the early 1960s, more companies offered credit cards, advertising them as a time-saving device rather than a form of credit. American Express and MasterCard became huge successes overnight.
By the mid-'70s, the U.S. Congress begin regulating the credit card industry by banning such practices as the mass mailing of active credit cards to those who had not requested them. However, not all regulations have been as consumer friendly. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court in Smiley vs. Citibank lifted restrictions on the amount of late penalty fees a credit card company could charge. Deregulation has also allowed very high interest rates to be charged.