Updated: Jul 29, 2021
When we think Black Friday, we think of a day in November directly after Thanksgiving in which many stores would offer tempting sales. It is a time not only to celebrate our families, but also to shop for items we want at lower prices. Many believe the term “Black Friday” is used to describe when businesses are at a financial loss during the day. The sales would turn their profits “in the red” or “in the black.” However, this is incorrect and not the birth of the term. The modern and joyous occasion that some consider a holiday, used to be full of dread. In fact, the term “Black Friday” originated in 1869 to describe a stock market crash caused by gold prices.
On September 24, 1869, two Wall Street investors, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, caused the stock market to crash. They attempted to manipulate the “nation’s gold market at the New York Gold Exchange by buying as much of the precious metal as they could, with the intent of sending the prices skyrocketing” (Vaughan). President Ulysses S. Grant intervened with their plans and inadvertently crashed the stock market. As a result, the stock market decreased by 20% and foreign trade ceased. Thousands of Americans went into bankruptcy. Farmers were also affected as their crops decreased in value, namely wheat and corn’s value decreased by one half (Friedman). This depressing event was the origin of the term “Black Friday” as the stock market crashed and people lost a lot of profit.
The phrase “Black Friday” was later used by the traffic police in Philadelphia around the 1950s. The day between Thanksgiving and the Army-Navy game, there would be traffic jams and crowds of shoppers and tourists all around the city. There were so many people that even the Philadelphia Police Department would not be able to control them. The cops would work long hours in an attempt to contain the crowds and traffic. They would describe this day as “Black Friday” because of the long and exhausting day that the police had to endure.
The term “Black Friday” was first featured on a printed ad in an issue of The American Philatelist, a magazine for stamp collectors, from 1966. It was later mentioned in the headline of a 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer article, “This Friday Was Black With Traffic.” The article was written based on “Black Friday” as referred to by police in Philadelphia (Bond). It reported on the horrific day of terrible traffic conditions and the pandemonium of shoppers. The police were not the only people who dreaded this day, in fact, many sales associates would call in sick and extend their Thanksgiving vacation to avoid the awful day.
The retailers did not enjoy the negative connotation of the term “Black Friday” since it was used to describe one of their biggest revenue days. They would continually try to put a positive spin to the term until it stuck. In the late 1980s, use of the phrase to express the positive boost in business grew nationwide. Now, Black Friday is thought to be the day that stores reaped a huge profit for the year since it is known as the biggest shopping day in the United States. Most of the customers today are not aware of the former use of the term, as a way for retail stores to commercialize the day. According to David Zyla, an Emmy-winning stylist and author of “How to Win at Shopping,” he said, “Retailers have little concern today with the origin of the name but have taken full advantage of its global recognition as a day (along with Cyber Monday) to make a significant portion of their yearly sales with one-day-only and doorbuster promotions” (Bond). Using the term Black Friday, one that is recognized globally now, businesses are able to earn a lot of profit. “Online sales alone during Black Friday 2019 reached a record $7.2 billion, up 14% from the previous year” (Bond).
Despite the current positive connotation Black Friday has currently, the day still represents a darker side of American consumerism. Crowds of shoppers would wait outside stores overnight, push each other while rushing in, and compete for discounted items. There have even been instances of violence and injuries. More extreme cases include a total of 12 deaths. It is best to be mindful if you decide to stop on this day, as you do not want to contribute to the horrifying events of the past.