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The Origin of Black Friday

Black Friday

With Thanksgiving feasts come Black Friday sales. While many people believe the term Black Friday finds its roots in the sense of black meaning “showing a profit; not showing any losses,” this is not the case.

Historically, black has been associated with days of economic stress as opposed to days of booming commercial success. The first Black Friday occurred in 1869 after financier Jay Gould and railway businessman James Fisk attempted to corner the gold market, which ultimately resulted in financial panic and the collapse of the market. In turn, when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, marking the onset of the Great Depression, the event was referred to as Black Tuesday.

Following suit with the earlier “black” days, the true origin of the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday lies in the sense of black meaning “marked by disaster or misfortune.” In the 1950s, factory managers first started referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving as Black Friday because so many of their workers decided to falsely call in sick, thus extending the holiday weekend. About ten years later, Black Friday was used by Philadelphia traffic cops to describe the day after Thanksgiving, when they had to work 12-hour shifts in terrible traffic. Soon the term caught on among shoppers and merchants in Philadelphia, and from there it took off nationwide.

The 1980s brought the mythology of Black Friday so often heard today. While the phrases in the black and in the red are used in the business world to describe profits and losses, this explanation for one of the busiest shopping days of the year only came about in the 1980s, about 20 years after the phrase Black Friday was in regular use.

Why is the Monday after Thanksgiving called Cyber Monday? Read about that here.

24 Comments

  1. Steve -  December 1, 2014 - 4:17 pm

    This article is sheer baloney. Just because the phrase “Black Friday” may have been in existence prior to the current, modern “Black Friday” phenomenon doesn’t mean that its modern usage is determined by previous meanings. The fact of the matter is that the Friday after Thanksgiving Day is called “Black Friday” because it (allegedly) is the first day of profit (“in the black”) after nearly 11 months of businesses operating at a loss (“in the red”). Of course, this is pure theory and conjecture, given that few businesses could actually survive for 11 months operating at a loss. This article goes to show that you can’t believe everything on the internet, even when it comes from an otherwise reliable source.

    Reply
  2. Pradeep -  March 25, 2014 - 7:49 am

    Yeah now I know, in the movie The greatest show on earth the guy keeps saying as long as we are in the black.

    Reply
  3. Sthi-Bash -  December 20, 2013 - 2:20 am

    After reading this article my mind went black…

    Reply
  4. Rebecca -  December 17, 2013 - 8:21 pm

    Why should we call it ” Black Friday”? Are we being rude by saying that? Well I know one thing for sure is I hear how bad it get, running people over for something stupid that we are mostly going to throw away. We get really crazy when it comes to Black Friday. You will never believe how stupid it is. We get into fights for what? Nothing that we need, now if it’s what we need the yes fight why fight if we don’t have to.

    Reply
  5. Bob6431 -  December 3, 2013 - 8:32 am

    I didn’t do any Black Friday shopping at all but I went shopping on Thanksgiving and everthing was closed.

    Reply
  6. Bob6431 -  December 3, 2013 - 8:31 am

    It was Christmas Eve. A woman came home to her husband after a day of busy shopping. Later on that night when she was getting undressed for bed, he noticed a mark on the inside of her leg. “What is that?” he asked. She said, “I visited the tattoo parlor today. On the inside of one leg I had them tattoo ‘Merry Christmas,’ and on the inside of the other one they tattooed ‘Happy New Year.’” Perplexed, he asked, “Why did you do that?” “Well,” she replied, “now you can’t complain that there’s never anything to eat between Christmas and New Years!”

    Reply
  7. El Swaggor -  December 1, 2013 - 1:43 pm

    Luckily our history teacher told us about this! :)

    Reply
  8. Michelle -  December 1, 2013 - 5:37 am

    In my own personal life certain dates of particular misfortune I referr to them as ‘black’. And everyone I know who works retail uses the term Black Friday in a negative way because its the worse day of the year for them to work. I believe it was coined by retail workers and then some advertising agency was smart enough to turn it from a negative conotation to a marketing scheme. Which worked for a while but people are seeing it more and more in a negative way.

    Reply
  9. Rainbow -  December 1, 2013 - 3:30 am

    ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    Reply
  10. NaivePhilosopher -  November 30, 2013 - 5:54 pm

    I’d heard that the name came from the fact that companies operate on debt throughout the year. The revenue generated from the massive sales starts the ascent from the “black” debt zone (really bad) to the “red” debt zone (all clear). That’s just what I’ve heard any way.

    Reply
  11. Emily -  November 30, 2013 - 3:20 pm

    So if that’s called Black Friday… Why is the 13th of December so dangerous? If you refer to Friday the 13th… Is it because deaths happen on those days?

    Reply
  12. Robyn Youl -  November 30, 2013 - 9:17 am

    To Australians, Black Friday was the horrendous Friday 13th January 1939 when it appeared the whole state of Victoria was alight during one of our worst bushfires. ‘Black’ days in Australian vocabulary refers to particulary devastating bushfires. Strange how the same word has different connotations for different cultures. It would be disrespectful to tag a ‘Black Friday’ shopping spree.
    Robyn Youl

    Reply
  13. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 30, 2013 - 6:57 am

    I thought Black Friday would be something bad, and wondered why they would have huge sales on that day. My dad told me the “black ink” explanation.

    Reply
  14. Amenyamen -  November 30, 2013 - 6:38 am

    Preceded by Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.A., it is ironic there are no greeting cards sold inscribed inside with “happy Black Friday… I want your money” to blot out red ink… putting Friday in the Black. So why not call it is Blot Red Ink Friday, or Blotter Friday?
    Black spots of traffic or Blotting red ink- screw that.
    Stay at home and enjoy what America needs most (Family time) and left over turkey or ham, unless you are working and not at a store participating in Black Friday, that has been blotted out by Corporate greed, whose SOB’s may as well call it Advent Friday, to get to your pocket book.
    Pity the morons who think that shopping on Black Friday has to supercede Family time, and will be back on Saturday, and on Sunday to return them goods they bought because they never had the ability to buy and pay for, other then creating the hot zone of CO2 emissions by their auto commutes.
    How about calling it Far From The Maddening Crowd- Friday, and say hello to a great author T.Hardy, with a trip to the Library earlier in the week.

    Reply
  15. Austin -  November 29, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    I read something about “Black Friday” in my APUSH book during the Reconstruction. I feel like it has something to do with it, since it also involves business, marketing, and deflation of prices.

    Reply
  16. Bill -  November 29, 2013 - 1:47 pm

    Well, the day isn’t as profitable as you might think. When I was at Best Buy, our revenue (sales) for the day usually ran around $1,000,000 for the store, but we expected to lose between $50,000 and $100,000.

    But when I suggested to management that we just close the doors and keep the $50,000 in our pocket, they just laughed . . .

    Reply
  17. hip hop -  April 20, 2012 - 5:05 am

    The title of Kims’ album

    Reply
  18. Black Friday, doorbuster « Lex maniac -  November 23, 2011 - 2:23 pm

    [...] is the day that stores operate in or go into the black), seems to have arisen later, although one source says there’s no definitive evidence one way or the other. Two less common explanations — [...]

    Reply
  19. Miles -  November 28, 2010 - 7:01 pm

    Yeah, I always thought it was strange to call it “Black Friday”. Black is a word usually reserved for bad things — Black Plague, Black Bart, etc.

    Like Anna, I figured it was a reference to the unpleasant crowds and traffic associated with that day.

    Reply
  20. Black Friday -  July 23, 2010 - 4:31 pm

    It’s called Black Friday because that is when retailers go “in the black” marking their profit for the year. From January until November they are not very profitable.

    Reply
  21. BLACK | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 23, 2010 - 2:40 pm

    [...] you go Black you’ll never go back” and why in Checkers is there Black and Red. — The RED States — dey don’t like no Black — though THE HOT WORD is the [...]

    Reply
  22. Jonel -  July 23, 2010 - 1:43 pm

    This is cool and informative.

    Reply
  23. Isa -  July 23, 2010 - 11:54 am

    Haha Black friday i think it’s called that because it is the day when People Honor Corporate America but spendinglots of money on things they will never wear. Which is indeed a black offair

    Reply
  24. Anna -  July 23, 2010 - 11:51 am

    I always assumed it was coined by employees who had to work the Friday after Thanksgiving. It is the most nightmarish day of the year when you are the one opening the doors and stocking the shelves..

    Reply

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