It’s the beginning of November when you start to see them everywhere. While you’re out getting groceries, or if you’re shopping online from home, ads for Black Friday deals bombard us from left to right and tempt us to spend big for the holiday season, promising amazing deals and discounts.
It seems like the term “Black Friday” has been around forever, and it’s become a norm for Americans to go out right after their Thanksgiving dinners to department stores and supermarkets to get the best gifts before anyone else can. But when exactly did the crazy ‘shop til you drop’ tradition begin?
The first known usage of the term “Black Friday” came from reactions to the U.S. gold market crash of September 24, 1869, also referred to as the Panic of 1869. Two financiers on Wall Street, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, decided they corner the gold market in an attempt to send the price of gold skyrocketing across the country. However, President Grant caught onto their scheme and ordered the Treasury to release a large amount of gold into circulation. This action actually made prices drop significantly, causing fortunes to be built and destroyed all in a day.
Much later in the 1950s, policemen in Philadelphia coined the term for the day after Thanksgiving when suburbanites would come to the city in masses to begin holiday shopping and to watch the Army-Navy football game that occurred every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. On this particular Friday, police officers of the Philadelphia PD were typically made to work longer shifts due to the influx of people, and there were often more civil disturbances due to the stressful conditions of the shoppers. They began referring to the day as "Black Friday" because it was such a dreadful work day.
The use of the term with this meaning spread around Philadelphia but didn’t get much further. There was mention of “Black Friday” in the Factory Management and Maintenance journal in November 1951. The term was used to refer to the practice of employees calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving to secure a four day holiday for themselves. Besides these two references, the term was mostly a local idea and a very negative one.
The Modern Black Friday
The first inklings of the Black Friday we know and love today came from a 1975 issue of the New York Times when the journal deemed the day after Thanksgiving "the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year." The phrase "Black Friday" wasn't used, but it was the first time the day was specifically cited as the biggest shopping day of the year.
The modern understanding of the term didn't come about until the mid to late 1980s. Retailers understood that their best sales occurred in the holiday season when they went from being in the "red" to being in the "black," as economists put it. Companies decided to capitalize on this concept, and thus Black Friday as we know it was born. Major sales started as soon as stores opened their doors the day after Thanksgiving, and people flocked to get the best deals on the newest toys and gadgets.
In recent years, Black Friday has been prolonged into a 4-day extravaganza. Many stores open their doors to shoppers as early as 5:00pm on Thanksgiving day now, allowing dedicated customers to get must-buy products sooner. The Saturday following Black Friday is now known as “Small Business Saturday,” which began as an effort to benefit local business owners and employees. Many Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales last through the weekend, and then the whole event is topped off with Cyber Monday, where shoppers can get the best deals from the comfort of their homes. Cyber Monday typically rakes in the most money, thanks to websites like Amazon that have crazy sales on amazing products.
Black Friday has evolved a lot over the years. What started as a reference to a financial crisis in 1869 now marks one of the biggest shopping days of the year, when businesses begin to prosper as the holiday shopping picks up speed. Although there are some pretty crazy things that go on during Black Friday shopping trips (check out www.blackfridaydeathcount.com if you don’t believe me), this day represents the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year for many people. And if you ask me, there’s no better way to ring in the holiday season than to shop til you drop!
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