National Geographic : 2005 Feb
WILMINGTON, It's that time again: write the check to pay for the holiday splurge and mail it to zip code 19886, Wilmington, Delaware. No one lives in the zip code, but several credit card companies get their mail there. On a peak day they receive almost two million payments-enough to fill a Hummer (above). Delaware has been good for business ever since Pleuthere Irenee du Pont de Nemours fled the French Revolution and built his gun powder mills along Wilmington's Brandywine Creek 200 years ago. The mill was the start of the DuPont Company, the city's major private employer for generations. That role is now played by MBNA, a giant in the credit card industry, which moved to Delaware in the 1980s to take advantage of the state's favorable banking laws. Consumer debt has become an American way of life, one that many find addictive. Wilmingtonians themselves aren't immune to credit card debt, as profiles on the following pages demonstrate. 126 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * FEBRUARY 2005 S.Wilmington POPULATION: 0 (19886 is a zip code shared by riverr credit card companies with high-volume mail.) 1949: The year businessman Frank McNamara found himself without his wallet when paying for a New York dinner and thought up the credit card. He and his partner founded Diners Club the following year. 164 MILLION: Number of credit card holders in the U.S. SANTOS L. HALPER: The name on a credit card ordered by Bart Simpson for the Simpsons' dog, Santa's Little Helper 1.5 TRILLION DOLLARS: Credit card spending (2003) 786 BILUON DOLLARS: Credit card debt (2003) $702: Average amount people planned to spend during 2004 holiday season 14,300: Number of employees working for credit card companies in the greater Wilmington area UNUSUAL USES FOR CARDS: Scraping frost from wind shield; burnishing stenciling projects; scratching off lottery tickets; slipping a spring latch bolt on a locked door WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Find more on 19886 at national geographic.com/magazine/0502. Tell us why we should cover YOUR FAVORITE ZIP CODE at nationalgeographic.com/ magazine/zipcode/0502.