This Day In History: October 1

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On October 1, 1958, the American Express Company issues its first charge card in the U.S. and Canada to give traveling customers more flexibility. The purple paperboard card—which later becomes the iconic green or gold plastic card—pre-dates a new era of paying for purchases with revolving credit cards, with MasterCard and Visa following years later.

With the American Express card, users could purchase airline, steamship and cruise tickets, with one caveat: They had to pay back the balance in full every month. By the time the new card launched, American Express had issued 250,000 cards, and 17,500 businesses had signed on to accept them. Then, in May of 1959, American Express issued the first plastic charge card.

Before entering the charge card business, American Express began in 1850 as a freight-forwarding company, formed through the consolidation of three companies involved. The business gained trust among customers while transporting some of their most valuable possessions. By 1862—during the Civil War—American Express had 890 offices, more than 1,500 employees, and nearly 10,000 miles of railway and express routes in the northeast and Midwest. In 1891, American Express introduced the Travelers Cheque to help customers traveling internationally feel more secure with their money. In 1915, the company started offering customers travel services.

Today, American Express issues credit cards, processes payments and provides travel services worldwide.