Revolutionary of the Credit Card Industry Dies

May 3, 2013

Stanley A. Dashew, a man who helped revolutionize the credit card industry, passed away due to natural causes at the end of April. He was 96.

Dashew was a renaissance man who held patents not only related to credit cards, but also in mining, mass transit, medical equipment and offshore oil transportation. A keen sailor, he sailed around the West Indies and through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles, where he settled. He also authored the book You Can Do It: Inspiration and Lessons from an Investor, Entrepreneur and Sailor, which was published when he was 94.

Dashew said he could attribute his first fortune to the credit card industry, which he helped automate. He did so through his company Dashew Business Machines, which he started in 1950.

In the late 1950s, charge cards were still a new concept, and the industry was having some issues because the actual cards were made out of paper. Bankers quickly found out that paper wasn't exactly the best medium for a card that saw frequent use, as they easily frayed and tore. This made it difficult for people to use the cards because they became too difficult to read.

Dashew talked to banks about what they were looking for in a physical card. At this time, IBM was promoting the use of punch cards that could automate data processing, files and accounts. Bankers wanted to leverage this technology because they thought credit cards were really going to take off with consumers--and they were right.

The solution to the bankers' card problem was to find some sort of durable material that could be used for a card and also include an account number, expiration date and other personal information that could help tie the card to an account. Dashew realized that a newer material would be the answer: plastics.

In developing a plastic credit card, Dashew discovered that a former colleague had created a way to emboss plastic material. Dashew then got together a team of engineers who built a keyboard embosser, a machine that could take a customer's name, account number and the card expiration date and imprint it on a card.

Dashew also did research to find ways to help automate the card processing system and discovered that data needed to be automated at the merchant, because if it wasn't automated where the sale originated, it would be difficult to automate the rest of the process.

To help solve this problem, Dashew's team built an imprinting machine that took the information from the card and printed it on a receipt. The customer could then sign this receipt to verify the transaction. The machines also printed all the transactions onto a report that could be read by optical character readers. This helped eliminate errors in the transaction process that were generated through writing down the wrong information or misreading handwritten information.

Dashew's system helped launch the first plastic bank card, Bank of America's BankAmericard. Other companies, including Diners Club, American Express and Chase Manhattan Bank also used this technology to create plastic credit cards.

When Dashew hired Joseph P. Williams, an executive who was ousted from Bank of America, the two worked together on a new national credit card product, which was difficult to do, since at the time, there were laws that restricted banks from having cards or business in more than one state. Their work led to a bank charge card called Unicard. This eventually became what we know today as Visa.

Dashew and Williams also made a deal to take over Chase Manhattan's credit card operations, which they turned around and eventually sold to American Express.

Dashew created innovation in several other industries, including developing Imodco, the single-point mooring system for offshore oil transportation. He also invented a people and cargo moving system called the Dashaveyor, a wastewater treatment system called Biomixer and the Dashaway, which helps people remain mobile.

Dashew and his late wife Rita also helped found the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars at UCLA, the goal of which is to strengthen international ties and foster cross-cultural understanding.

Dashew is survived by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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