The History of "Farrington B" and Credit Cards

You likely don’t know what “Farrington B” is. But you see it just about every day. Yep, those squared-off letters and numbers scrawled upon almost every card in your wallet were invented in a bar at NYC’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1952.

David H. Shepard, who invented the optical card reader, had a dilemma. When people used their cards at gas pumps (where optical character recognition was first used), the ink would inevitably smudge and smear. Not good.

To combat this sullying of financial data, Shepard developed the Farrington B numeric font, which transmitted clearly using the early knuckle-buster analog card processing devices of the mid-century.

These days, credit card companies could use Comic Sans for the account number if they really wanted to; all of the pertinent information is gathered from the magnetic strip or EMV chip. But Farrington B is something of a tradition and somehow comforting.

Next time you produce your credit card at the local Cheese Steak Emporium, thank David Shepard and the ubiquitous Farrington B.