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(Courtesy of Flickr user 401(K) 2012)

The Gift Card Was Invented by Blockbuster in 1994

So the next time you buy a little piece of plastic with money on it for someone, you can thank Blockbuster

If you're stuck on a present for someone, chances are you'll reach for a gift card—it's a more thoughtful than handing over a pile of cash, but gives the recipient free reign to buy something they might actually enjoy. Two out of every three people have bought a gift card, and the growth of the gift market is faster than the US GDP, China's GDP and Apple's Stock.

It's hard to remember how we lived without gift cards, but they weren't invented until 1994. Neiman Marcus was the first to sell the cards, but they didn't advertise and display them. It was Blockbuster who first displayed the gift card in its stores (apparently due to rampant counterfeiting of their paper gift certificates). The next big gift card seller was Starbucks, who in 2001 introduced cards that worked more than once. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, gift cards are either a boon or scourge depending on who you are. We've got gift cards that play sounds, and cards that take pictures. In 2012, 1,500 Starbucks gift cards were purchased every minute in the U.S. and Canada. So far, this year, the coffee giant has sold 450 million cards, worth $16 billion.

So the next time you buy a little piece of plastic with money on it for someone, you can thank Blockbuster.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The JFK Christmas Card That Was Never Sent
That Moon On Your Christmas Card

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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