The year was 1949, and the place was New York City. Frank McNamara, an executive at the Hamilton Credit Corporation, was dining with two associates at a restaurant called Major’s Cabin Grill. When the bill came at the end of the meal, McNamara reached into his pocket for his wallet. To his embarrassment, he realized he’d left it at home! He had to call his
wife, who rushed over to the restaurant to deliver him some cash.
This experience gave McNamara an idea. Local merchants in New York City, such as department stores and gas stations, issued credit cards that could be used only in their stores. But what if there was a credit card that could be used at all sorts of different locations? McNamara persuaded his two associates of the idea, and thus, the Diners Club card— the first real credit card— was born. In February 1950, McNamara became the first to use it, at a dinner at Major’s Cabin Grill that became known as “the first supper.”
McNamara started small by distributing the card to 200 people, most of whom were friends. They were made of cardboard and had the names of 14 restaurants— the only places that had agreed to accept his card— printed on the back. By the end of 1950, the card was a runaway success, with 20,000 people signing up for one. By 1952, thousands of merchants were accepting it. The credit card industry as we know it was born!