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The history of the branded plastic card

As you can see from our website, the uses for the plastic card are now almost endless and inevitably, the branded plastic card is ubiquitous… our purses and wallets stuffed with the things. Just think through your average day: paying for the shopping; using your superstore loyalty card; stopping off at the gym; using your membership to various clubs; the gift card you’ve been given for a birthday that you’re exchanging for something from a store; your key to get into the hotel for your weekend break away. The only surprise is that we still have wallets and purses big enough to cope with them all!

However, the next time you take one out, have a moment to think how recent an addition these cards have been in our lives, what they have enabled us to do, and the time it has saved us all. Your parents will no doubt recall a cash only society – where, when you ran out of the stuff, you would have to wait for the bank to open (or else, to get back to the shoe box stuffed under the mattress).

Plastic cards have indeed been a recent addition to our lives. Magnetic storage was only developed during WWII and computer data storage in the 1950s, through work such as that of Alan Turing in Manchester and the first storable computer, The Baby. However, it wasn’t until the following decade that the two were merged… and that was only down to the lucky ingenuity of one Dorothea Parry.

Her husband, Forrest Parry, was an engineer for IBM and it was Mr Parry who had the notion of fixing a strip of magnetic tape to a plastic card. Only, every type of glue he used to do it jus wouldn’t work - either it would come away, or else the glue would affect the data on the strip. The story goes that Mr Parry came home one evening, after yet another frustrating - and sticky - day in the lab. His wife, the aforementioned Mrs Parry, asked what was wrong, and he explained his dilemma. Dorothea was ironing at the time and suggested the notion of melting the strip on, using an iron. It worked. The heat was just enough to meld magnetic tape and plastic… and billions upon billions of transactions have taken place as a result.

Here in the UK, Barclaycard introduced the first plastic credit card to this country in 1966. The significance of the year - and England’s victory in the World Cup - might possibly explain Barclay’s continued involvement with the Premier League. The Access card followed in 1972, and a credit revolution was on its way!

History Branded Plastic Cards