In 1960, engineers set out to develop the technology that would convert our society into debt-crippled shopaholics. But before we all started wielding plastic, it was made out of cardboard — and now you can buy the original IBM prototype.
Despite being nothing more than a small piece of cardboard with some magnetic tape wrapped around it, Sotheby’s is expecting to sell the “Prototype for Magnetic Striped Financial Transaction Card” — one of only two in existence — for upwards of $US15,000. That’s steep, sure, and you could probably make your own for less than a dollar, but this thing is serious techno-financial history:
The earliest trials were done on cardboard, although the acceleration of the invention meant that only two such prototypes were made before the plastic card was developed.
As [IBM engineer Jerome] Svigals explains, “IBM did the work for free and didn’t even patent the machine-readable card it came up with. Rather, it offered its solution gratis to all, assuming that the more transactions conducted using machine-readable media, the more computers would be sold to process them. The strategy worked beyond anyone’s dreams.”