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Visa's Smart Card - "The SuperSmart Card"

        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.

             The first chip card mock-up                  Moreno's first chip - 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.

Chip drawing from Moreno's patent

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 Siemens' "SIKART"  circa 19781970’s saw larger companies getting involved with smart cards and interest First CP8 circa 1979from 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).

     Honeywell Bull CP8 circa 1979   Bull CP8 circa 1979

The chipAmerican Express prototype circa 1979 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....

 

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(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.

As we discuss above the thinking about chip based "smart" credit and debit cards started well over 20 years ago at both Visa and MasterCard.  Much of the initial work in the United States on memory or smart cards as they were called then, started with consultants like Richard Darwin who headed up the Financial Services Consulting group for many years at the Battelle Memorial Institute, a major worldwide think tank located in Columbus, Ohio. Battelle sponsored the very first memory (smart) card conference in the United States. Like any good smart card conference in the 1980's a highlight was each attendee was provided a free smart card.

 

Below is the card example, from the Battelle Conference held in April, 1985:

The leap from the think tank concepts to the design of the first SuperSmart card prototype will be the subject of this continuing history on this page(s) along with a short discussion of each card. Only six Visa SuperSmart cards were developed as they evolved. The first was built by Smart Card International with the last four developed and build by Toshiba. These four versions were the prototypes leading to the final version (SSC 6) which was produced and distributed to Visa executives such as Visa president Chuck Russell, Visa board members, senior management and staff. Visa ordered 1,000 SuperSmart cards to be produced. It is unclear as to how many were actually delivered to Visa.  As a result it is unknown how many still survived. Maybe two dozen, we know of only five.

Visa International developed 6 Visa SuperSmart Cards during their 5 year program:

Visa International (SSC's):

Cat #

Value

Expired

Chip

Card Mfr.

Quantity

Venue

Used at:
SSC (1)

Units

Dec-89

Toshiba

Toshiba

Unknown

Headquarters

Visa Headquarters Test Lab
SSC (2)

Units

Dec-88

Toshiba

Toshiba

Unknown

Headquarters

Visa Headquarters Test Lab
SSC (3)

Units

No Date

Toshiba

Toshiba

Unknown

Headquarters

Visa Headquarters Test Lab
SSC (4)

Units

No Date

Toshiba

Hankyu

Unknown

Japan

Hankyu & Toho Test Lab
SSC (5)

Units

Dec-92

Toshiba

Toshiba

Unknown

Booth, Other

Conferences; Member Meetings
SSC (6)

Units

Dec-92

Toshiba

Toshiba

Unknown

Booth, Other

Conferences; Member Meetings

Click on any image on this page to enlarge.

This SSC (1) prototype Visa SuperSmart card above is one of six developed and delivered by Smart Card International (SCI) from specifications supplied by Visa. The SSC (1) is 1/4 inch thick and has a light blue back. Note that is does not yet contain any Visa Cash information just a  "Visa Card" key on the back as Visa Cash concept was not yet developed at the time. Remember Visa was and is a credit card company and the SSC card was intended to be a "SuperSmart" credit card.

Use the SSC as your credit card as well as for other things such as your calculator. All security was self contained. The SSC was not intended to be used in a point of sale (POS) terminal as these were the days before widespread use of on-line or offline POS terminals and "data capture".  I can not imagine it being put through a card imprinter as surely the SSC would have been crushed into pieces!

However, it is 1986 and is the very first Visa smart card of any type. The six prototypes of the SSC (1) were built in 1986 and the expiration date of 1989 was arbitrary as Visa credit and debit cards generally expired in 3 years. The prototypes built by SCI did not work very long (perhaps months) and SCI did not deliver any more SuperSmart cards to Visa beyond the original prototypes. I was told it may still work if I were to open it up, go to Radio Shack and get a new battery and turn it on.....I still have not tried for fear of damaging the card!


More information coming soon! 


Gold Back. Note the Visa Cash Key on Back.

 

  • Documentation not complete. 

Black Back, Hankyu & Toho Card Group. Note the Visa Cash Key on Back.

 

  • Documentation not complete. 

Black Back. Has a "Valid From" embossed date of 1990. Note the Visa Cash Key on Back. 

 

  • Documentation not complete.

 

 

Black Front, Black Back. Has a "Valid From" embossed date of 1990. Note the Visa Cash Key on Back.

 

  • Documentation not complete. 

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If you or someone you know has more information concerning the 

Visa SuperSmart Card program, please contact us.