The blue trademark and gladiator logo are recognized worldwide as symbols of financial security,payment flexibility and superior customer service. With 97 million cards in use, American Express cardholders spent $822bn (£522bn) in more than 200 territories in 2011. Undoubtedly the infamous celebrity only Black American Express card is the most desired financial instrument in the public consciousness.
The brand offers an array of payment, expense-management and travel products for consumers and businesses, including credit and charge cards, travel, home and car insurance, its Travellers Cheques and foreign exchange services.
American Express was formed in 1850 from the merger of express mail companies Wells & Co, Butterfield, Wasson & Co and Livingston, Fargo & Co. The freight company provided safe and speedy transportation of bullion and bank notes across the US.
Like lots of innovation a major shift was born out of frustration, a move into secure financial transactions was prompted by a visit to Europe by its then-president, JC Fargo, in the late 1880s. As was common at the time, Fargo took letters of credit to facilitate cash advances. However, he was frustrated to find that he could do so only in major cities. As a consequence, the company launched its Travellers Checks. It remains the biggest issuer of them by volume.
Although the company had considered launching a charge card in 1946, it did not do so until 1958, by which time rival Diners Club's operation had been running for eight years.
However, interest was so great that AmEx issued 250,000 of its paper cards prior to launch, despite levying a $6 annual charge – $1 more than Diners Club, to give it a premium positioning. American Express has never been interested in copying rivals and are happy their product, service and indeed Merchant Fees are different to the almost indistinguishable Visa and MasterCard. Another year passed before users could put their purchases "on plastic", with the introduction of embossed plastic cards.
The classic green card was just the start, as AmEx began to segment its customer base with different cards for the more-wealthy. In 1966, it launched the Gold Card – the invitation-only Platinum Card followed in 1984. Each had its own fee structure and associated benefits. A tie-up with Foursquare is intended to help build the importance of the physical card in the virtual world showing that they keep innovating allowing customers access to local special offers.
1850: American Express was formed.
1891: The company launched its Travellers Cheques.
1920: It made pound sterling Travellers Cheques available.
1958: American Express launched its first card, which was purple and made of paper.
1959: It introduced a plastic card in the US – an industry first.
1975: David Ogilvy coined the brand's 'Don't leave home without it' line.
1981: American Express introduced its Gold Card in the UK.
1987: It launched its 'Membership has its privileges' campaign.
1993: The Membership Miles (now Membership Rewards) scheme was introduced in the UK.
1997: The brand formed a partnership with designer Alexander McQueen.
1999: It made the ultra-exclusive celeb black Centurion Card available to customers in the UK.
2000: The co-branded British Airways AmEx Card was launched.
2004: American Express rolled out its global 'My Life. My Card' campaign.
2012: It launched a partnership with Foursquare.