May 24, 2012
As credit cards came into greater use in the late 1950s and early ’60s, the financial press closely followed their emergence, especially when the wrong sorts got access to them.
Consider, for example, Joseph Miraglia. In one month of orgiastic spending, Miraglia ran up a $10,000 bill entertaining himself across three countries, four girlfriends and one rhinestone-collared cocker spaniel. Miraglia was no scion: He was a clerk from the Lower East Side of Manhattan earning $73 a week. How did he get into the then-exclusive credit-card club?
In 1959, travel and entertainment charge cards, such as Diners Club, were just beginning to lose their ground to bank cards, such as BankAmericard. But the use of credit was still subject to very real technological and moral constraints. Miraglia nicely illustrated how both would soon change -- and foreshadowed some of the consequences.
His adventure began in September 1959, when he ducked into a fancy New York restaurant and saw a pile of Travel and Entertainment card applications for “men of responsibility.” He filled out the Hilton Hotels’ Carte Blanche paperwork, complete with his real pittance of a salary, and, to his surprise, received a card a few weeks later with a letter that said “this card is your key to every luxury Hilton has to offer.”