Credit Card Swipe Machines: A Pictorial History

Forget technical jargon and scientific gobbledygook — the history of credit card swipe machines is far more fun and compelling when told visually. These fantastic photos trace the development of the technology from its earliest days — when Diners Club invented the credit card in 1950 — to the present.

Thanks to a patent by Richard P. Feldman in 1977, these “knuckledusters” were the original “credit card swipe machines.” You placed the credit card on the metal surface, put two slips of paper separated by a carbon sheet on top of the card, and moved the handle back and forth, so that the number would imprint on the slip, which you would later deliver to your processor by hand. Hey, at least you didn’t need a power source to complete the transaction!

IBM pioneered magnetic stripe technology. As with all early computer hardware, this 1970s credit card swipe machine was bulky compared with its successors. But it was slightly more advanced than the rotary phone that sits beside it in this photo.






In the 21st century, credit card readers started to look a lot like this one. This 2006 VisaNet unit featured the stripe-swiping channel next to a full-size numerical keypad with lots of colorful buttons surrounding it — just enough to make it a bit confusing for nontraditional transactions.



This is a diagram included in a 2006 patent for a magnetic card-swipe reader, which also incorporates information obtained from a wireless or contact-based source. It represents a precursor to much of the wireless magnet stripe technology that is seen today.



Here’s a more modern version of a credit card swipe machine: the VeriFone Omni 470. It not only reads debit and credit cards, but also prints out a receipt. It’s set up so customers can do the swiping, instead of having to hand their card to a cashier.






Simple devices like this one from Mag-Tek enable anyone with a personal computer and a merchant services account to accept credit card payments. With the swipe of a card through its channel, data is transmitted digitally to a computer using keyboard scan codes from up to ten feet away via a USB connection. No cumbersome keypad is needed (although it may be combined with one, if desired).



new gopayment readerLast but certainly not least, this type of card reader is revolutionizing credit card processing. The free GoPayment card reader plugs into any smartphone or tablet computer and reads magnetic stripe data as a card is swiped through it. It’s the best (and cutest) credit card swipe device ever invented!

Photo credits (from top): Etsy, IBM, Wikipedia, FPO, Teptronics,, Intuit

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