Bank of America sent out 60,000 pieces of mail to people in Fresno. Inside was a little plastic object that has become in equal parts emblematic of opportunity, convenience, and debt.
It was a card offering a $500 line of credit.
Within 10 months of what became known as the “Fresno Drop,” more than a million Bank Americards had been mailed out across California. The novel system was relatively unregulated initially, but eventually the Truth in Lending Act made it illegal to mail out credit cards to people who had never asked for one.
The BankAmericard system eventually became known as Visa. Other cards that had competed with Bank of America also consolidated and they became MasterCard. Today, more than 70% of Americans adults have at least one credit card and the U.S. as a whole has about $900 billion in credit card debt.