What information is stored on credit card’s magnetic stripe?
A magnetic stripe card is a type of card capable of storing data by modifying the magnetism of tiny iron-based magnetic particles on a band of magnetic material on the card.
The magnetic stripe, sometimes called swipe card or magstripe, is read by swiping past a magnetic reading head. Magnetic stripe cards are commonly used in credit cards, identity cards, and transportation tickets.
They may also contain an RFID chip, a transponder device and/or a microchip mostly used for business premises access control or electronic payment.
In the 1950s, magnetic recording of digital computer data on plastic tape coated with iron oxide was invented. In 1960, IBM used the magnetic tape idea to develop a reliable way of securing magnetic stripes to plastic cards.
The History of Magnetic stripe card
Magnetic storage was known from World War II and computer data storage in the 1950s.
In 1969 Forrest Parry, an IBM engineer, had the idea of securing a piece of magnetic tape, the predominant storage medium at the time, to a plastic card base.
He became frustrated because every adhesive he tried produced unacceptable results. The tape strip either warped or its characteristics were affected by the adhesive, rendering the tape strip unusable.
After a frustrating day in the laboratory, trying to get the right adhesive, he came home with several pieces of magnetic tape and several plastic cards. As he walked in the door at home, his wife Dorothea was ironing clothing.
When he explained the source of his frustration: inability to get the tape to “stick” to the plastic in a way that would work, she suggested that he use the iron to melt the stripe on. He tried it and it worked.The heat of the iron was just high enough to bond the tape to the card.
First magnetic striped plastic credit and badge access cards
The major development of the magnetic striped plastic card began in 1969 at the IBM Information Records Division (IRD) headquartered in Dayton N.J.
In 1970, the marketing organization was transferred by IBM DPD back to the Information Records Division in order to begin sales and marketing strategies for the magnetically striped and encoded cards being developed.
It took almost two years for IBM IRD engineers to not only develop the process for reliably applying the magnetic stripe to plastic cards via a hot stamping method, but also develop the process for encoding the magnetic stripe utilizing the IBM Delta Distance C Optical Bar Code format.
This engineering effort resulted in IBM IRD producing the first magnetic striped plastic credit and ID cards used by banks, insurance companies, hospitals and many others.
Another result of this project was that IBM IRD and IBM Data Processing Division announced on February 24, 1971 the first Magnetic Credit Card Service Center and the IBM 2730-1 Transaction Validation Terminal.
Arthur E. Hahn Jr. was hired by IBM IRD in Dayton, N.J. on Aug 12, 1969 to head up this engineering effort.
Other members of the group were David Morgan (Manager), Billy House (Software Developer), William Creeden (Programmer), and E. J. Gillen (Mechanical Engineering/Machining).
 They were given a recently announced IBM 360 Model 30 computer with 50k of RAM for control of the encoding/embossing of the Magnetic Stripe Cards.
The IBM 360 computer was for scientific/business applications so the IRD engineers first had to convert the 360 into a “process control computer” and then develop software and hardware around it. Due to the limited RAM, the software was developed in 360 Assembler Language.
This conversion enabled the 360 computer to monitor and control the entire production process the IRD engineers designed and built.
Magnetic Stripe Cards Explained
The cards are usually about 2 inches by 3 inches and made of plastic or durable paper. A stripe on the back contains the data embedded in iron particles in plastic film.
An electronic reader is swiped through a slot. The reader decodes the embedded data and approves (or denies) the transaction or access that is being attempted.
If the magnetic stripe becomes dirty, scratched, or demagnetized, the card may not work.
What’s On a Magnetic Stripe
The magnetic stripe on a credit card contains three horizontally stacked tracks, each of which stretches across the full width of the card and occupies a portion of the magnetic stripe.
Each track is capable of holding a different amount and type of data.
In this post, we tried to explain what information is stored on the credit card’s magnetic stripe. If you have any questions, please leave your comment.