They say that you should always know where you came from. Our history is just as important as our future, as it tends to repeat itself and often enough can dictate our success. Today, for a little bit of fun, we are going to go a ways back into our history as business owners. The history of money is not just a frivolous subject matter but can give insight into what humans have gone through to survive financially. From trading furs to gigabytes, throughout history humans have had many different ways to get to this point in our economic evolution.
Early humans used what is called a “gift economy.” In these situations, there was a sense of community in that everything that was hunted and gathered was for the good of everyone in the group, which was typically small. In prehistoric times, this is how it was easiest to survive and that everyone was expected to contribute to the survival of the group. Early humans didn’t tend to barter as it was competitive and lacked trust. Bartering is seen as more selfish because you would try to get the best deal possible and would not help the community as a whole.
9000 B.C. Cattle was the main bartering item and since that could mean anything from cows to goats, a standard price was set, such as two goats for one cow.
1200 B.C. Cowry shells (from mollusks found in the Indian and Pacific oceans) were the most popular form of currency. They were rare and impossible to counterfeit so they were used to buy anything from clothing to food. They were also used up until the last century.
1000 B.C. China was inspired by cowry shells to make metal cowry shells, the first coin if you will. These eventually had holes put in them so that they could be strung together. Also, at this time, tools and weapons were used as a form of currency.
500 B.C. Silver coins were born into existence in Sardis (a city in modern day Turkey) and were made from electrum which was an alloy of gold and silver. These were generally used between two parties, similar to today. A few centuries later, China started “paper” currency made out of dyed white deer hide with colorful borders.
806 Actual paper money was created as a by-product of Chinese block printing. It was used more than metal currency because it was easier to carry, of course.
1535 Native Americans were using wampum beads as currency. When Europeans finally came to the Americas, they adopted this currency as well so that they could trade with the natives more easily.
1821 The Gold Standard was introduced. When England introduced its gold Sovereign coin in 1816, the country adopted the Gold Standard as its standard currency. This meant that all paper money represented a certain amount of gold. Many countries adopted the Gold Standard soon after, including Australia, France, Canada, Germany, and the U.S.
1891 American Express introduces traveller’s checks which can be exchanged for cash. This allowed people to travel to different countries without exchanging currency or having actual cash on their person.
1930 The Great Depression causes an end to the Gold Standard. Paper money was no longer converted to gold because of the need to fund military operations across the globe. Paper money becomes known as “fiat” money because it is only backed by the good faith of the bank with which it was issued and has no actual value.
1946 The first charge card, or credit card, was introduced by a Brooklyn banker named John Biggins. There were restrictions on the card though; cardholders needed an account at Biggins’ bank and could only make local purchases.
1950 The Diners Club card was the first popular credit card but was mainly used for food or entertainment purposes. Within a year 20,000 people were using the card.
1966 The modern day credit card was introduced when Bank of America established the BankAmericard Brand or VISA.
1972 The first ATM or Automated Teller Machine was the first electronic transaction used by the public. This meant that bankers could withdraw money without visiting their banks and during non-business hours.
1994 After the internet was created in 1990, online banking was established. Also merchants such as Pizza Hut sold goods online and credit card transactions became usable.
1995 Online transactions became more secure and the norm with the arrival of online retail giants Amazon and Ebay.
1997 Mobile commerce began, strangely enough, in Finland where a consumer could purchase from a coca-cola vending machine via SMS text message.
1998 & 1999 Billpoint, from Ebay, and PayPal were introduced as person-to-person payment platforms within online transactions. Eventually Billpoint was phased out and in October of 2002, Ebay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion.
2007 Mobile payments left the text message area and went to full-on applications with the new iPhone.
2010 On-the-spot credit card transactions were a sore need for small businesses and many different applications were provided. Now all that was needed was a credit card to swipe and an application installed on your smartphone for you to be able to sell anything, anytime, anywhere. Charges, however, are applied to each transaction through the application.
PRESENT Several different platforms and technologies are used in the exchange of currency. Although in some parts of the world bartering is still considered standard, it has improved in even the poorest of nations, where electronic currency can be just as easily accepted.
FUTURE It has long been assumed that someday our hand (via computer chip) would be “swiped” as currency so that identity theft will be obsolete. Although this sounds extremely futuristic, I’m sure wampum bead traders never imagined smartphone transactions either.
Many different platforms of currency exchange are being explored and our future is as hard to imagine as ever. Looking at this entry, I am surprised at the last 50 years and can’t imagine what is waiting for us just a few years down the road. Looking at how humans not only interacted financially but how they improved and evolved economically can give a great idea on how you can improve your own small business and how it interacts with the public. As you can see, keeping up is more important now than ever. Changes are occurring daily and if you get left behind technically, you get left behind financially.