The History of Magnetic Striped Media Technology

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[Recorded: June 29, 2011] Magnetic striped media are used by more than 80% of the world's population. They are swiped through slot readers more than 50 billion times a year. They are used for financial transactions, automatic teller machines, mass transit access, identification and access control devices. Their information content is specified by national and international standards. The magnetic striped media design is surviving through subsequent technologies. The Smart Cards with imbedded chips in the media are still striped for transition and backup. The mobile phone when used as a payment device emits the same data stream as recorded on the standard striped media. The "simple" magnetic striped media was the combination of solutions to four different technical challenges. The first was mastering the marriage of magnetics to the surface of plastic cards or paper tickets. The second challenge was the specification of recordings which allow multiple industry use of the magnetic media. The third challenge was the design of the accepting units to allow successful use of the media by the world's population. The fourth challenge was design of the security system to successfully control the use of an easily read and recorded media. Originally, the IBM development group for the magnetic striped media faced rejection by the engineering and marketing staffs. Engineering opposed the apparent lack of security. Marketing opposed a solution which was competitive with an alternative technology proposed by a major IBM customer. Both concerns were answered. The rest is history. The Computer History Museum lecture will recount these events, the key players/organizations and the answer to implementation concerns. Mr. Svigals was the IBM development manager during the formative period of 1968 to 1973. He has since written 26 books on cards and payments. Included will be a brief projection of the media based industry through 2020.