Black Friday is highly anticipated nowadays due to the huge discounts it brings, but the history of Black Friday is actually a bit darker and more complex.
Over the years, Black Friday has become one of the biggest shopping days of the year, as huge crowds of shoppers flood stores the day after Thanksgiving to buy loads of heavily discounted stuff. However, the real story behind the term "Black Friday" had little to do with price cuts.
Black Friday Origin
As History reports, the term "Black Friday" was first recorded back in 1869 and it referred to the dark financial crisis following the crash of the gold market in the United States. Back then, two Wall Street sharks — Jim Fisk and Jay Gould — conspired to buy up as much gold as they could. They wanted to cause a surge in gold pricing and then sell their gold reserves for stellar profits, but their conspiracy was exposed on Friday, Sept. 24, 1869. The unraveling sent the stock market crumbling down and bankrupted everyone. From farmers to Wall Street moguls, the stock market crash left no one unaffected.
Black Friday Myths
There are many inaccurate stories circulating about the history of Black Friday. Many believe the term refers to the post-Thanksgiving shopping that finally returned retailers to profitability. Retailers used to write their losses in red and their profits in black so they could track their accounting more easily.
The story goes that after a bleak year of operating "in the red," meaning they were losing more than they were earning, stores allegedly went "into the black," returning to profitability the day after Thanksgiving. This was purportedly possible because stores discounted merchandise once Thanksgiving passed and shoppers rushed to take advantage of the lower prices.
This is the most popular myth regarding the history of Black Friday, but it's just a part that followed the real story.
Another Black Friday myth, meanwhile, paints the tradition in darker colors, alleging that its name originates from the 1800s. Back then, Southern plantation owners could allegedly buy slaves at lower prices on the day after Thanksgiving. This story has no merit, however, and it's not how Black Friday got its name.
The True Story
What really led to the term Black Friday is a trend from the 1950s, when crowds of tourists and shoppers would flood the city of Philadelphia on the Friday after Thanksgiving for the annual Army-Navy football game held on Saturday. Police had a hard time keeping up with the crowds and ended up pulling long shifts to handle the increased traffic and crowds. They also had to deal with many shoplifters that time of year, as thieves would take advantage of the crowds and mayhem to steal as much as they could.
People eventually started referring to that Friday as Black Friday and by the early 1960s, the term already became popular in Philadelphia. Merchants tried to change it to "Big Friday" to remove the negative implications, but Black Friday had already caught on. Many years later, the term spread to the rest of the country and the day after Thanksgiving became widely known as Black Friday nationwide.
It wasn't until the late 1980s that retailers finally managed to give Black Friday a positive twist. It was around that time that stores finally started shifting from red to black, returning to profitability.
Black Friday Today
Black Friday has grown into an immense shopping frenzy in more recent times and today it's a real phenomenon not only in the United States, but in many other countries worldwide. What used to be a one-day sale gradually turned into a shopping marathon stretched over the entire weekend, preceded by other pre-Black Friday deals and followed by Cyber Monday deals.
Retailers such as Walmart are now starting Black Friday sales as early as Thanksgiving, while others such as Amazon announced 35 days of discounts.
If you're planning to do some shopping today, check out the Black Friday store hours to see when Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Staples, Macy's, Lowe's and others are opening and closing.