No Checking Required: An Early Credit Offer From Diners’ Club

By Ray Schultz

It’s hard to picture in this age of instant credit approvals and payment by smartphone. But in 1962, Diners’ Club sent out this offer in a Time magazine envelope without much prior checking:

This invitation is extended to

(Blank for name)

by Mr. Allred Bloomingdale, President

THE DINERS’ CLUB INC.

Your credit standing and financial rating have placed you on the select list of individuals to whom we are limiting the mailing of this invitation for Diners’ Club membership.

We hope you will take a moment to review some of the advantages of membership outlined in this folder and decide to fill out and mail your application today.

The enclosed application is transferable to members of your immediate family or associates sharing your business responsibilities, if you now have a Diners’ Club Credit Card.

Sounds a little loosey-goosey, doesn’t it? But remember: In 1962, Diners’ Club was only 12 years old, and American Express less than half that. Diners’ Club must have assumed that Time magazine readers were good prospects.

Diners’ Club had been introduced In 1950 by Frank X MacNamara for use in restaurants The original plan was to make money by taking 6% off the top of each transaction.

First, Diners’ Club mailed the card unsolicited to several thousand businessmen. The card itself was cardboard, and had the names of its few participating restaurants on the back, wrote Matty Simmons, the press agent for Diner’s Club, and later publisher of the National Lampoon.

In 1962, credit card issuers were mailing their offers to everyone, including, the joke had it, dogs and dead people. That practice of sending out cards unsolicited ended in 1970 when Congress outlawed it.

We don’t know now how Diners’ Club personalized the name on the letter—it may have been by hand, given the technology of that time.

The note was accompanied by a list of institutions that accepted the card in “Canada, British Isles, Europe, Asia, Australia, Arica, South & Central America.”

And there was a brochure proclaiming Diners’ Club as “the newest and mot advanced plastic credit card.”

It said:

Designed for your utmost convenience and honored by thousands of establishments that have been screened for quality and service. These are listed by area in wallet-size directories, which are furnished separately as guides for your additional convenience.

Since this single credit card replaces dozens of individual credit cards you now carry, it actually reduces the bulk of your wallet. In addition, you receive on request Diners’ Club directories covering all international listings and special listings of automotive services, gasoline stations, and repair centers.

Collections were a challenge.

“In addition to cardholders who simply couldn’t pay their bills, credit-card thefts, counterfeiting, and fraud started to escalate,” Simmons wrote. “Thieves, who since the creation of civilization had come up with new ways to rob others of their valuables and their money, now learned how to steal credit cards. They discovered how to falsify their credit applications so they could get their own cards and copy them much like the counterfeiter mattered the art of re-creating twenty-dollar bills.”

Things have improved.

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