American Express credit card advertisement • 1966
Individual businesses – particularly grocery stores – extended credit to regular customers by keeping track of their purchases and billing them once a month. This was done informally, by employees recognizing customers by sight or on the phone.
By the 1930s, large stores, oil companies and other big businesses began providing credit cards for this purpose, which could be used only at that particular merchant. There were no general-purpose credit cards until the 1950s, and they took awhile to become widely accepted.
American Express was an early leader in this field. This 1966 magazine ad uses a dynamic photo of a surfer to say that a trip to Hawaii, with all the expenses associated with it, could be charged. This was a new concept at the time.