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Who Remembers Diner’s Club?

Credit cards are such a ubiquitous part of our modern society that it is hard to imagine life without them. Imagine having to carry cash to pay for all daily transactions; now imagine this occurring in the era before ATM (automated teller machines). How did this work? Customers had to physically go to a bank and see a human teller to withdraw cash when needed. The ability to do business through credit card processing was unknown.

In 1949, one man decided to change all that. After dinner one night at a New York City restaurant called Major’s Cabin Grill, Frank McNamara reached for his wallet to pay the bill and realized that he left it at home. He was mortified and reached an agreement with the restaurant to pay for his meal on his next visit by leaving them a signed business card. He resolved that it would never happen to him again. When he returned to the restaurant in February 1950, he paid for his meal with a small card that he called the “Diner’s Club Card”. Diner’s Club was the very first credit card and Major’s Cabin Grill was the first of billions of merchant accounts to accept them.

Diner’s Club expanded steadily through the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s and gained a reputation as a prestigious business card. Anyone who has seen the classic 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” recalls Audrey Hepburn’s character being entranced by the card.
Diner’s Club was responsible for several major innovations in the credit card industry, including being the first plastic credit card, offering travel insurance and the establishment of corporate accounts.

Diner’s Club was acquired by Discover Financial Services in 2009 and re-positioned itself as an elite business travel card that is no longer available to the general public. The card is not often seen by merchants, but it is still subject to normal credit card processing procedures through merchant accounts. When a customer presents a merchant with a Diner’s Club card as payment, he can be sure that customer is an affluent business person.

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