Origins of Black Friday
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
November 29th, 2021
By: Payton-Luv Stine
Black Friday is basically a holiday in America, a holiday of long lines, cold weather, endless shopping, and frantic purchasing. Whether in line at Best Buy for the newest and greatest TV, or department stores for holiday gifts, we all know or are, someone who has participated in the Black Friday craze. But when did Black Friday become a holiday of sorts? And why is it called Black Friday?
There are a few theories on the origins of the term “Black Friday”, some regarding the financial crisis of 1869, when Jay Gould and Jim Fisk caused a crash of the U.S. gold market by buying incredulous amounts of gold, hoping to push the price to the roof and sell for crazy returns. This destroyed the stock market and bankrupted thousands, resulting in the name “Black Friday.”
Another theory is the idea that most retailers operate at a loss for the majority of the year, meaning they are “in the red.” Only on the day after Thanksgiving when shoppers spend their holiday bonuses and checks on discounted merchandise do these stores earn a profit and are “in the black.” The red and black come from old ways of accounting when companies used to record losses in red and profits in black.
However, according to History.com, none of these stories are correct. The true origins of Black Friday are indeed dreary in nature, as the first theory, but have nothing to do with a financial crisis or accounting colors. In the 1950s, Philadelphia police officers used the term “Black Friday” referring to the madness on the day after Thanksgiving, and the day before the Army-Navy football game. Tourists, shoppers, locals, and just about anyone who could come to the city to watch the game, and police officers worked long hours to ensure safety with the sudden influx of crowds. Amidst the chaos, shoplifters used this time to steal from local stores.
In 1961, Philadelphia's store owners tried without success to coin the term “Big Friday” rather than “Black Friday” to advertise discounted merchandise and shopping opportunities. It was not until the late 1980s were retailers nationwide able to use the momentum of “Black Friday” to create America’s number one shopping holiday.
Black Friday Today
While Black Friday today is very much still in existence, the e-commerce space has begun to take over what used to be hoards of people in line for the best deals Friday morning. Today sales last all weekend long, from Friday to Monday, and most shoppers do it all from the comfort of their own homes. What once was Black Friday has evolved into a more “sophisticated” and digital experience, that is Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is a day of online shopping, holiday gift hunting, and overspending. In 2020 alone, total online sales on Cyber Monday in the U.S. were 10.8 billion dollars. We have come a long way, and as Black Friday dwindles, Cyber Monday thrives.
Do you think Cyber Monday is the way to go? Or is the thrill of waiting in line and running to the best products going to keep Black Friday alive?
Payton-Luv Stine is one of the Fall 2021 Co-Content Directors. She is a senior at NYU Stern studying Marketing and Sustainable Business and minoring in Animal Studies.