Cash back rewards have been around in various forms dating back to at least the 1800s. In the 1890s stores began issuing trading stamps to customers who paid with cash instead of purchasing on credit tabs. The practice further caught on in the 1910s and 20s with the emergence of chain gas stations and grocery stores and expanded to all customers who shopped at the establishments.
The peak of the frenzy was between the 1930s where it was almost a prerequisite to have a stamp program to draw in customers. By the mid-1960s the craze has slowed and many corporations dropped the promotion in favor of research and marketing to heighten their store's appeal. Which actually might have been more a boon for the customer than the company line as it was estimated that the cost of the programs generally raised the participating store's prices by 4%.
In 1961 in the Detroit suburb of Northville, the Hawthorne-Northville Chapter of the Michigan Association for Emotionally Disturbed Children placed a bus on the patients' Christmas list as an humorous afterthought. As Charles E. Dell Jr., the chairman of the chapter's bus committee, recalled it, "They put a bus on the list almost as a joke." The joke became a reality when through volunteering efforts, word-of-mouth campaigns and eventually newspaper articles the chapter accumulated some 2,301,600 Gold Bell stamps from as far away as California.
Volunteers licked and stamped some 1,918 booklets and though they were still 247 books short of the prerequisite amount, with stamp donations still flooding their chapter headquarters, a deal was struck with the distribution company to deliver a bus by Christmas morning. The bus was to be utilized for field trips around the Detroit area.
TRADING STAMPS: A Hidden Charge in the Grocery Bill, Time Magazine, November 28, 1955
Children At Hospital Get New Bus; The Owosso Argus-Press, December 21, 1961
Trading Stamps Used To Buy Bus For Hospital; The St. Joseph News-Press, December 27, 1961
The Trading Stamp Story by Jeff R. Lonto