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History of Black Friday

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By Katy Sommerfield

It’s the week of Thanksgiving and all through the stores, there are deals to be found and sales galore!

It’s that time of year again, when we gather close to all our friends and family, spend quality time around the dinner table, and then run as fast as we can to the nearest shopping mall to find the best deals. It’s Black Friday time!

 

Black Friday is both a beloved and dreaded occasion for a lot of people. For the fans, it’s a day when all of the Christmas shopping gets done and money is saved on big-ticket items. For the haters, it’s chaos and mayhem and destruction. Is that a little dramatic for me to say?

 

No matter how you feel about it, Black Friday has been a part of our American culture for a long time now, and it’s not going away any time soon. In fact, Black Friday has been extending to Thanksgiving evening now! So how did this crazy shopping tradition start?


A Get Rich Quick Scheme

The usage of the term “Black Friday” can actually be traced back to September 24, 1869. Two Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, decided they would corner the gold market, making the price of gold skyrocket in the U.S. and making them rich as Midas in return. However, their plot was foiled when President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the treasury to release a large amount of gold into circulation in an attempt to stop Gould and Fisk. This caused the price of gold to drop dramatically, causing what economists now call “the Panic of 1869.” Initially, U.S. citizens referred to this day as Black Friday.


A Hard Day at Work

By the 1950s, the phrase “Black Friday” had mostly died out in reference to the Panic of 1869. It wasn’t until some police officers in Philadelphia started using the phrase that it started to catch on again in the area. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, Pennsylvanian suburbanites would travel to Philadelphia to begin holiday shopping and to attend the Army-Navy football game that took place every year the Saturday after Thanksgiving. As a result, police officers would have to work extra-long shifts Thanksgiving weekend to look after all the tourists and Philadelphia locals during the festivities. It was expected that there would be a lot of calls into the precincts during that weekend as a result of the shoppers’ stress and the football fans’ aggression. The Philadelphia policemen eventually started referring to the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday because it was such a dreadful workday for them. This phrase caught on to the civilians but didn’t extend past the Pennsylvania borders. 


Boss, I’m “Sick”

The term “Black Friday” was printed in an article in the Factory Management and Maintenance Journal in its November 1951 issue. The phrase referred to the practice of factory employees calling in “sick” the day after Thanksgiving in order to get a four-day holiday. Factory managers would blame Black Friday for the absence of many employees for years to come. 


Shop ‘Til You Drop

In a 1975 issue of the New York Times, the day after Thanksgiving was deemed “the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year.” This article may not have used the phrase Black Friday, but it certainly was one of the first instances in the popular media which denoted importance to that day for shopping specifically. 


In the 1980s, marketers were thinking of new ways to bring shoppers out in droves the day after Thanksgiving for holiday shopping. Most retailers experienced their best sales period during the holiday season when their finances would go from “red” to “black,” as it’s often stated. Marketers had the idea of using the term “Black Friday” to encourage the idea of financial wellbeing in the consumer, therefore inciting them to spend more money the day after Thanksgiving than any other time of year. This is how Black Friday as we know it today came to be. 


Black Friday in the 21st Century

Today, Black Friday is still one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and the sales events have been extended into a four-day event. Starting on the night of Thanksgiving, Black Friday sales begin and continue until the end of Friday. Saturday is now known as “Small Business Saturday,” and is a movement to encourage shoppers to buy locally for the holidays. Finally, the shopping spree ends with Cyber Monday, a day when stores sport huge online sales. Cyber Monday has become the most popular shopping day of them all, as customers can search for the perfect deals directly from home. 


Will you be doing any Black Friday shopping this year?

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