The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping but to the financial crisis: in particular, the crash of the US gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless financiers of Wall Street, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy as much of the nation’s gold as they could, hoping to jack up the price and sell it for astonishing profits. That Friday in September, the plot finally collapsed, bringing the stock market down and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.
The most-repeated story behind the Black Friday tradition of Thanksgiving shopping ties it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”), stores would be supposed to make a profit (“in the dark”) the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers have spent so much money on discounted prices. merchandise. While it is true that retail businesses recorded losses in red and profits in black when accounting, this version of the origin of Black Friday is the officially sanctioned, but inaccurate, story behind the lore. .
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A visual history of Black Friday: from financial crash to shopping madness
In recent years, another myth has surfaced that gives a particularly ugly turn to tradition, claiming that in the 1800s Southern plantation owners could buy slave laborers at a discount the day after Thanksgiving. While this version of Black Friday’s roots has naturally led some to call for a boycott of the retail holiday, it actually has no basis.
The real story of Black Friday, however, is not as sunny as retailers might have you believe. In the 1950s, Philadelphia City Police used the term to describe the chaos that ensued the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flocked to the city ahead of the big football game. army-navy organized this Saturday every year. Not only would the Philadelphia cops not be able to take a day off, but they would have to work really long hours to cope with the extra crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the heckling in stores to flee with goods, which would compound the law enforcement puzzle.
By 1961, “Black Friday” had made its way to Philadelphia, to the point that merchants and boosters in the city tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations. However, the term did not spread to the rest of the country until much later, and as recently as 1985, it was not in common use nationally. In the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and make it something that reflects positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the “red to black” concept of the holiday mentioned earlier, and the idea that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when American stores finally turned a profit.
The story of Black Friday got stuck, and the term’s darker roots in Philadelphia were quickly forgotten. Since then, the one-day sales windfall has evolved into a four-day event and spawned other “retail parties” such as Small Business Saturday / Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started opening earlier and earlier this Friday, and now the most dedicated shoppers can step out right after their Thanksgiving meal.