The smart card and the events (directly or indirectly) leading to the introduction of the Visa SuperSmart Card program is great history. We have used primary research by actually interviewing some of the participants and secondary research sources to develop this short history. As with many technological introductions the adoption and the of the evolution of the smart card took many years. Most of the smart card's early development happened in France while involving companies from all over the world. Smart card development eventually lead to Visa’s SuperSmart card and subsequently Visa Cash and Mondex cards. As I am contacted or discover new information I will add to this history, but will strive to keep it simple and will not get into most of the technical issues as this history is intended to be a general overview.
The Birth of the Idea and the Early Years before 1980
The concept of memory card or “smart cards” started in France. Simply stated the idea was to embed a computer chip that contained information (whether about the holder of the card or value of some sort), make it secure, and then being able to be retrieve this information via it the chip's contacts on one side. The concept of the smart card was invented and patented in France by Roland Moreno about March, 1975.
Above are images of the first card with the same physical characteristics of a credit/debit card and has chip component and contacts on one side. (1) In 1976 Moreno demonstrated the first use of a smart card for electronic payments. His concepts and patents were the catalyst for smart card advancement in France, where unlike the United States and other countries the phone system and service was notoriously poor. If you lived or worked in Paris during the 1970’s and 80’s, when you picked up your phone, many times you did not get a dial tone.
As a result, the French were slow to develop on-line systems as in the United States and turned to the smart card which was seen as a lower cost alternative. Remember this is 1976. To put this technology in perspective, it was only in April 1976, when the Apple I computer was released and launched Apple Computer's great success (the Apple I was the first personal computer with a single circuit board). In 1976, IBM has not even thought of their personal computer (1981) or the PCjr (Peanut) until 1983.
Above is a circuit drawing from the second part of the patent filed by Moreno in 1976.
These patents lead Moreno to form Innovatron, the first company formed to commercialize the smart card in 1977. The late 1970’s saw larger companies getting involved with smart cards and interest from the French and other large telecommunication companies and companies moving to introduct computer chips. In 1978 Siemens (in Germany) built and demonstrated their SIKART memory card (left) for use as a identification and transaction card. A year later in 1979 Motorola (USA) supplied Honeywell Bull with a memory chip for the CP8 card (right) which was the first fully functional card including a memory. Other large companies were taking note and Schlumberger, who are French based, bought 15% of Innovatron, the company created by Roland Moreno. As a result Schlumberger begins its involvement of smart card and creates their Memory Cards & Systems division and became a leading smart card manufacturer over the next 20 years. Schlumberger also made further advancements on their smart card by developing the first functional microprocessor cards (a card equipped with memory and a microprocessor and two chips) which later became the CP8 (below).
The chip components are supplied by the Motorola in the United States and was assembled and tested in a plastic card in the offices of Bull CP8 in France make it a truly global endeavor. That year the first public demonstration of the Bull CP8 financial transaction card is held in New York with a prototype developed with American Express card. It would be 25 years later that American Express issues their “Blue” smart card. At same time of the Amex New York demonstration, management of several French banks and the Directorate General of Electronics begin a test launch of an experimental interbank memory card in France.
The Smart Card Development 1980 - 1988
Part two of this history is coming....
(1)These and many other very early chip card images may be viewed in the “on-line smart card museum” @ www.cardshow.com.... note it is written in French and you will need to translate to Engish.