The credit card was the successor of a variety of merchant credit schemes. It was first used in the 1920s, in the United States, specifically to sell fuel to a growing number of automobile owners. In 1938 several companies started to accept each other's cards.
The concept of using a card for purchases was invented in 1887 by Edward Bellamy and described in his utopian novel Looking Backward.
The concept of paying merchants using a card was invented in 1950 by Ralph Schneider and Frank X. McNamara in order to consolidate multiple cards.
Bank of America created the BankAmericard in 1958, a product which eventually evolved into the Visa system ("Chargex" also became Visa). MasterCard came to being in 1966 when a group of credit-issuing banks established MasterCharge. The fractured nature of the US banking system meant that credit cards became an effective way for those who were traveling around the country to, in effect, move their credit to places where they could not directly use their banking facilities. In 1966 Barclaycard in the UK launched the first credit card outside of the US.
There are now countless variations on the basic concept of revolving credit for individuals (as issued by banks and honored by a network of financial institutions), including organization-branded credit cards, corporate-user credit cards, store cards and so on.
In contrast, although having reached very high adoption levels in the US, Canada and the UK, it is important to note that many cultures were much more cash-oriented in the latter half of the twentieth century, or had developed alternative forms of cash-less payments, like Carte blue, or the EC-card (Germany, France, Switzerland, among many others). In these places, the take-up of credit cards was initially much slower. It took until the 1990s to reach anything like the percentage market-penetration levels achieved in the US, Canada or UK. In many countries acceptance still remains poor as the use of a credit card system depends on the banking system being perceived as reliable.
In contrast, because of the legislative framework surrounding banking system overdrafts, some countries, France in particular, were much faster to develop and adopt chip-based credit cards which are now seen as major anti-fraud credit devices.