“Black Friday’s” Tumultuous History

There are several versions of how the term “Black Friday” originated. Some say “Black Friday” came about because to the chaos in Philadelphia in the 1950s at the traditional Army-Navy football game. This was a game we always watched in our family for there are more than a few members who had served in the U.S. Navy among us.

Anyway, people flooded into the city on Friday for the game on Saturday. Reportedly, this created a burden for what we now call the “infrastructure” and the “foundation” of the city. It became an “all hands on deck” situation, especially for the city’s police with traffic and additional crowds in restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. Shoplifting, especially, became an issue, as there were not enough staff in stores to oversee the merchandise nor was there enough law enforcement officers available to either prevent the acts or to locate and arrest the thieves.

Over the next decade, the Philadelphia merchants began to take advantage of the situation, by adding more security of their own and setting up sales. They also attempted to change the image of the event by calling it “Big Friday,” but those efforts were for nought. In truth, the term “Black Friday” was still not used consistently throughout the U.S. even into the 1980s, until some big named retailers took up the term to make their own sales pitch. The idea of turning the chaos into from a “red to black” sales point came about in the 1980s. By the time I was rushing about at 4 and 5 A.M. looking for Power Ranger hard to find Power Ranger items in the 1990s, the term “Black Friday” had lost it Philadelphia chaos and taken up its own chaos (not saying there was not still some chaos in Philadelphia, but it no longer dealt with the Army-Navy game as it once did). The choice of the day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” was, generally, accepted for in business such is when America’s stores supposedly began to turn a profit for the year.

Since then, we now have Small Business Saturday/Sunday (depending on where one lives) and Cyber Monday. Up until the pandemic, stores started offering hours earlier and earlier, some even opening by 5 P. M. on Thanksgiving Day to capture the dollars of shoppers ready to fight for what they thought were deals. Since my child is now a young man in his 30s and a family of his own, I no longer fight the madness. As is customary for me, I began my Christmas shopping in September and have been finished for nearly a month now. In that manner, I can spread the payments out over several months and not be hit with what I call the “no I didn’t” moment when my credit card bills arrive.

To counter some of these tales, History.com tells us “The first recorded use of the term ‘Black Friday’ was applied not to post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U. S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

“The most commonly repeated story behind the Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (‘in the red’) stores would supposedly earn a profit (‘went into the black’) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition.”


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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