Throwback Thursday: How Mobile Pay Has Come Full Circle

Everything old is new again.

Including the mobile payments ecosystem.

Now, depending on who you ask and what generation they’re from they’ll likely start off a story with “Well, back in my day, we used to…” or “remember when…” and share stories about the clunky, time-consuming payment system of their days. While the device may have been “revolutionary” at the time, they are now etched in history books.

“Oh, how times have changed,” generations say as they get older.

But that doesn’t mean they haven’t come full circle. And so, for PYMNTS’ premiere Throwback Thursday story, we’d like to divert your attention toward the very early version of mobile pay…er…phone pay?

Meet the NCR Stamping Phone — known as the first automated credit approval system that was featured in department stores during the 1940s.


This quirky little device enabled department stores’ sales staff to authorize purchases via an internal phone line. The customer would essentially be approved to pay for a purchase by phone. The salesperson would then provide the customer with a little printout showing they had purchased an item by phone. (Sound familiar to today’s mobile payments world?)

“Phones were configured with from 1 to 10 intercom pushbuttons to ring the appropriate credit specialist in the back room. Each button was coded for the range of customer last names handled by each credit authorizer. Pushing the button buzzed the authorizer, who looked up the customer’s credit limit on paper files and, if appropriate, authorized the credit sale,” explains one history lesson on the phones.

The receipt was stamped and there was a record of the credit approval in the store and one given to the customer. And that receipt was stored in the physical store, which seems utterly archaic in today’s cloud-based, mobile-driven world where the concept of a physical receipt seems mundane.

And that’s the NCR Stamping Phone. Ironically, on Etsy, this phone payment device can be bought using PayPal and using other major credit cards (and soon Apple Pay).

phone 2     phone 3


In 2015, the payments industry still views phones as the path to payments innovation. Sure, it’s quite a bit more sophisticated with the addition of smartphones and apps and new technologies, but now, in this Throwback Thursday moment, it’s clear to see: A phone has long been a device that enabled consumers to pay, in some form or another. Today, the phone has simply become the payment device instead of the connection between the consumer and store.

Oh, how we’ve come full circle. And someday, one generation will say “remember when we used to pay with our phones?”

mobile payments


Latest Insights: 

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