Today, it takes seconds to use a card to pay for a purchase. Often, you don’t even need to sign, and you can count on multi-layer security to keep your information safe.

However, before the start of electronic processing, credit card transactions were handled with a manual card imprinter and paper receipts. They were slow, not very secure and—using carbon paper—often messy.

Credit Card Timeline

Early 1900s to 1940s. Oil companies and retail stores issued their own credit cards to be used only at that retailer. Cards were made of paper, cardboard, and later, metal.

1950s. Diners Club was introduced in 1950 for travel and entertainment expenses. It’s believed to be the first widely used credit card. American Express® issued its own plastic travel and entertainment card later in the decade. Both cards required cardholders to pay off the balance each month.

Mid 1960s. The first general-purpose credit cards, later known as Mastercard® and Visa®, joined the market.

1973. Electronic credit card processing was introduced. This allowed merchants to access information from banks to ensure that the user had enough credit for the purchase, which gave consumers far more flexibility in using their credit and more places to use a credit card as payment.

1986. The Discover® card launches nationally with a television commercial during Super Bowl XX. The card focused on delivering consumer-friendly features and services, such as the very first cash rewards program and no annual fee.


Mid 1990s. The EMV* (Europay, Mastercard®, Visa®) chip was developed and launched in Europe, providing more security. Only recently has the technology caught on in the United States.

Today. Credit card holders can use their cards at merchants across the country and around the world. They have the flexibility to pay off their balances each month or make monthly payments to fit their budgets. Consumers can even link their credit cards to their smartphones. Many cards provide rewards for purchases.

Card issuers continue to work tirelessly to increase security and protect cardholders’ personal information. EMV chip card technology is increasingly being adopted by card issuers and merchants in the United States. Chip cards feature both the chip and traditional magnetic stripe, so they’re usable even when the merchant doesn’t yet support chip technology. When the card issuer and merchant both support chip technology, the chip card can be inserted into the terminal to complete the transaction.

Tomorrow. Card companies are working on enhancements such as dynamic CVV codes (the three-digit number on the back of the card or four-digit number on the front of American Express cards). These would be linked to a temporary password each time you use the card, making it harder for fraudsters to use stolen cards. In addition, frictionless payments (those that don’t require consumers to remove a card or smartphone from pockets or purses), such as iWallet, will likely become much more common.

*EMV is a registered trademark in the U.S. and other countries and is an unregistered trademark in other countries, owned by EMVCo.