“Cash or charge?”
The most-asked question in America
Imagine this. You dash into Neiman Marcus to pick up that must-have little black dress for a hot date tonight, then have to pay with cash or check. No money—no merchandise. Even checks might be a problem if the store doesn’t know you well. One wonders? How could the early baby boomer economy survive, much less prosper? Not to mention the crimp it puts in your personal style.
It’s the 1950s. “Credit” is a pat on the back. There are mortgages and car loans. A few department stores had begun experimenting with credit for regular customers but typically required a paid-in-full balance to continue “charging.” Contrary to popular belief, spoiled baby boomer kids cannot have anything they want at any time.
The modern credit industry was born with a red face. The president of a major loan corporation is entertaining friends at a restaurant. He reaches into his back pocket and discovers nothing. A frantic call sends his wife scampering downtown with the cash. Never again, Frank McNamara vowed, and from that humbling experience the Diner’s Club was born—a credit card that could be used at multiple restaurants. Initially, 200 cards are issued good at 27 establishments. There is no extension of credit. Remit each time and use again. Thank you for your prompt payment.
The idea caught on and Diner’s Club establishments expanded. It remained a “niche market,” pitched mainly to business travelers, but not for long. The world was on the verge of a full-scale credit revolution just as the baby boomer generation is poised to drive the economy to uncharted heights.
Bank of America and American Express burst into the market with advertising blitzes offering the final answer to the American Dream—a buy now, pay later and later and still later plan valid across the country for all types of stores and services. America, start you engines! Now “Shop to you drop” was a reality.
The idea created a huge credit industry, ballooned retail inventories, expanded advertising horizons and greatly magnified collective joy and debt.
The word “credit” is derived from Latin, meaning “trust.”
Of course, there’s a thriving vintage credit card market. One specialty is celebrity signed examples and the king is the King. Elvis’ American Express plastic from the early 1970s sold for $41,400 at auction, which the winner could presumably put on his credit card.
A celebrity’s Texaco Credit Card
Baby Boomer Trivia Questions
►What was the first product to use a jingle on television? Can you sing it?
►Match Game: Connect the card with its slogan
Some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s…
What’s in Your Wallet?
Do You Know Me?
It’s Everywhere You Want to Be.
The Card is Key.
Capitol One, Visa, Diner’s Club, MasterCard, American Express
Answers at end of post
Baby Boomers by the Numbers
Prices in 1950
Average house: $14,500
Gas: 20 cents a gallon
Bread: 14 cents
Average income: $3216
*This price was high in the early stages of tech development and fell fast. It took about 6% of yearly income then to purchase a television set. Today, the average TV is less than 1% of income.
►Ajax had the first television jingle. Watch it: Click→ The Foaming Cleanser
►Boomer Match Game
Some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s…→ MasterCard
What’s in Your Wallet?→ Capitol One
Do You Know Me?→ American Express
It’s Everywhere You Want to Be.→ Visa
The Card is Key.→ Diner’s Club