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A diner short of cash launched the credit card. Fifty-five years ago, tarpaulin salesman Francis Xavier McNamara was entertaining clients at a New York restaurant when he found, to his horror, that he'd left his money at home. His wife raced to the restaurant with cash after his panicked phone call. Determined never to have that happen again, Mr. McNamara came up with the Diners Club card, the first multipurpose charge card. Imitators followed; many failed. The American Express card, launched in 1958, was so successful it nearly failed as well. Each client's purchases were hand-recorded and filed, and the business was drowning in paperwork. IBM's computers saved the day - and changed the industry.

Source: 'Panati's Parade of Fads, Follies, and Manias,' by Charles Panati (Harper Perennial, 1991).

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