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The Origins of Black Friday - Stories of Schemes, Chaos, and Holiday Deals

Posted by John Kim on

Black Friday.

The day is very popular and well known as the day for retail discounts among the public now, but there used to be a time when those words meant something different. 

This is not really surprising, as using black to describe a day is not exactly a unique thing. 

Indeed, there have been many "Black Fridays" in the past, and while they are all not directly connected with the current retail version, it is interesting to see their origins and how they may have contributed to the history of Black Friday as we know it now.

 

The Panic of 1869

Panic of 1869 Black Friday Gold Trading

One of the lesser known stories surrounding Black Friday, this incident marks one of the earlier times the term "Black Friday" was used to describe a specific day or event. In 1869, two of Wall Street's most infamous financial traders had devised a plan to drive up the price of gold by buying up the entire market and sell at a ridiculously high price. These men were Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, and in a scheme that involved secret partnerships, bribes and schemes, and even President Grant's brother in law, the men almost succeeded. However, due to the discovery of the plot and subsequent government intervention on Friday September 24, 1869, the plan was foiled, but resulted in the price of gold crashing, which had severe negative effects on the economy. Due to the unrest, financial ruin, and even violence that occurred on that day, it was dubbed "Black Friday."

 

Use in "Factory Management and Maintenance"

Probably one of the more dull and least known uses of the term, in 1951 and 1952 the journal Factory Management and Maintenance used "Black Friday" to describe the day after Thanksgiving and how workers would call in sick in order to enjoy a four day weekend. This never really ended up becoming used commonly, and was shortly forgotten. What is interesting though is that this is the first recorded time that Black Friday was actually used to refer to the day after Thanksgiving.

 

Disorder in Philadelphia

Philadelphia 1950 Department Store Encyclopedia

In the 1950s, the city of Philadelphia experienced a huge influx of tourists and shoppers due to the Thanksgiving weekend and the Army-Navy football game, which back then was still being played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. As a result of the inflated shopper numbers, police in the city had to work long shifts the whole weekend, with the Friday in between Thanksgiving and the game proving to be especially nightmarish with shoppers and traffic everywhere.  As a result, police in the city coined the day as "Black Friday" to describe the chaos that they had to deal with year-to-year on the same day.

 

The Modern Tale

Black Friday Holiday Shopping Deals

With the holiday sale season officially starting following Thanksgiving, retailers sought to use the Black Friday energy to drive sales. However, the term coined in Philadelphia, while it had not caught on everywhere, still had a rather negative story and feeling. As a result, the new tale of Black Friday emerged, leading to the currently most popular recounted story of how "Black Friday" was given its name. According to this story, retailers would make such huge sales on this day that it would be the day where, in old accounting standards, the companies would move from "red to black," or from operating in losses to finally making a profit in the year.

 

  

In the end, there have been many different uses of the term "Black Friday," and while not all have contributed directly to the modern version, it is still interesting to see how things have changed over time. Whether you enjoy the frenzied holiday shopping that now defines the day or prefer to withdraw yourself from the chaos, hopefully you find what you are looking for. 


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