CBC Digital Archives

Condemning credit in 1969

In 1968, Canadians first got their hands on credit cards, making it faster and easier to spend money they didn't necessarily have. Aside from their plastic, many Canadians also deal with the varying burdens of student loans, mortgages and all the other factors that contribute to personal debt. The CBC Digital Archives looks back on the times and troubles of personal debt in Canada, exploring how we get into debt and how we might avoid it.

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In theory, credit is a boon to consumers, a way to make goods and services more accessible to people who don't always have the cash immediately available. The reality in 1969 is that credit often makes it too easy to get these things, and this easy credit is a disaster for many Canadians. Guests in this episode of Concern criticize the lures of easy purchasing and the seductive marketing that sucked them into ruinous debt, including one guest whose marriage collapsed under the pressure of their debt. How does it happen? Who's to blame? Concern explores the credit system in search of answers.
• The credit card concept is first attributed to American author Edward Bellamy, who coined the term in his 1887 book Looking Backward: 2000-1887. The novel details the story of a young Boston man who goes to sleep for 113 years and wakes up in 2000, when the U.S. has developed into an economic utopia. In the book, the card is worth a certain amount of money which decreases as the card is used, making it more the modern equivalent of a debit card.

• The credit card was born in 1949 when businessman Frank McNamara hosted a dinner at a New York City restaurant, but upon receiving the bill, realized he'd forgotten his wallet. After his wife picked up the tab, the embarrassed McNamara vowed never to be caught short again. Soon after, he founded Diner's Club and began distributing credit cards in 1950. Their use was very limited, being accepted in just 14 restaurants in New York City. By 1967, the card was accepted in more countries (130) than were in the United Nations (122). In 1989, LIFE magazine named McNamara one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century.

• The song that host Peter Meggs refers to at the beginning of the program is Sixteen Tons, a famous tune about the travails of coal mining. The chorus grumbles, "You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go; I owe my soul to the company store. "The song was first recorded by country singer Merle Travis in 1946, but a 1955 rendition by Tennessee Ernie Ford was a far greater success.

Medium: Radio
Program: Concern
Broadcast Date: Jan. 1, 1969
Announcer: Bruce Marsh
Host: Peter Meggs
Reporter: Michael John Nimchuk
Duration: 52:07
This clip was edited for copyright reasons.
Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/DNY59

Last updated: November 7, 2013

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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