It’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year and has a tendency to send holiday shoppers into a frenzy, but how much do you know about how Black Friday started?
Most people assume that Black Friday earned its nickname as a result of retailers profit margins finally going into the black (profit), after a year of being in the red (debt). Whilst it’s true that retailers historically recorded their debts and profits in red and black, this version of Black Friday’s origin in in fact inaccurate.
The term ‘Black Friday’ first appeared on September 24, 1869, when two ruthless Wall Street stockbrokers named Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, hatched a plan to buy up as much of the country’s gold as possible and sell it for massive profit. This ruthless plan unraveled on that fateful Friday, causing the stock market to crash and the rich and poor alike to become bankrupt in the process.
So how did the term become associated with the day after Thanksgiving? For that, you can thank the Canadian’s. In 1905, a Canadian department store named Eaton’s became the first to throw a Thanksgiving Day parade. This parade was the inspiration behind the now legendary Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which first began in 1924 to celebrate the stores success during the Roaring 20s. The parade lifted morale and helped boost sales the following day, with retailers unanimously agreeing to wait until this time before advertising their holiday deals.
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Following a law that passed in 1941 that officially made Thanksgiving the forth Thursday in November, in the early 1950’s people began calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving, both to extend their holiday and to take advantage of the fact that stores were open. Rather than cause a HR headache by trying to determine who was genuinely sick and who was playing hooky, many bosses decided to include the Friday after Thanksgiving as an additional paid holiday. This trend spread, and soon many people were taking advantage of the extra day to get a head start on their Christmas shopping.
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By this point the Friday after Thanksgiving had officially become associated with shopping, but the real reason as to how Black Friday started, is all thanks to the Philadelphia police department. By the mid 1950’s the Philadelphia cops were using the term informally to describe the mayhem caused by hordes of suburban shoppers flooding to the city. These shoppers were creating long lines of traffic and smog, and worse still shoplifters were using the chaos to their advantage, making off with stolen goods whilst stores were overcrowded and in bedlam. As such, the police were not allowed to take the day off, and were having to work extra long hours to try and control the situation.
As such, by 1961 the term ‘Black Friday’ had officially stuck in Philadelphia, and despite a brief attempt by the city’s merchants to change the term to ‘Big Friday’ (which didn’t work), the phrase soon spread to the rest of the country.
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the whole red to black theory came about, in an attempt to turn the negative connotations of how black friday started, into something positive.
In recent years, the former one day shopping event has since spread over four days. Small Business Saturday and Sunday and Cyber Monday also give holiday shoppers the chance to snap up deals, and some now are even forgoing Thanksgiving to take advantage of the best deals.
Today, an estimated 174 million US consumers take part in either online or in store shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend, spending on average $520 per person. In the UK, retailers are predicting that Brits will spend an estimated £7 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchases.
But the craziest part of all? Black Friday isn’t actually the busiest shopping day of the year – that accolade is given to the Saturday before Christmas.
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