Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, has evolved into one of the busiest shopping days in the United States. Contrary to popular belief that the term originated from businesses going from “in the red” to “in the black” in profits after Thanksgiving, it actually traces back to 1960s Philadelphia.
Police used “Black Friday” to describe the chaos caused by crowds during holiday shopping and the annual Army-Navy football game.
Initially, merchants in Philadelphia attempted to rebrand it as “Big Friday” to present a more positive image. The term gained a positive retail connotation in the late 1980s when the red-to-black profit narrative was spread nationally, claiming it as the day stores turned a profit for the year.
However, historically, the term had an unrelated financial context dating back to 1869 when financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk‘s attempt to corner the gold market resulted in a stock market crash on a Friday in September.
Black Friday, as a shopping phenomenon, has been followed by other events like Small Business Saturday, promoting local retailers, and Cyber Monday, encouraging online shopping. Additionally, Giving Tuesday emerged to encourage charitable donations.
The history of Black Friday
The phrase’s use spread slowly and was first documented in The New York Times in 1975, referring to the busiest shopping day in Philadelphia.
As the term gained national attention in the 1980s, some merchants proposed an alternative origin, suggesting that retailers operated at a loss most of the year and only turned a profit during the holiday season, starting on Black Friday.
This interpretation linked the red ink traditionally used to indicate losses in financial records with the notion of being “in the red” until Black Friday, when profits would begin.
It’s important to note that the earliest published reference to this explanation dates back to The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1981.