What is the real story of Black Friday?
The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was not applied to holiday shopping but to a financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the US gold market on September 24, 1869. Two famous Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, teamed up to buy as much US gold as they could, hoping to drive the price sky high and sell it for fabulous profits. On a Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unfolded, sending the stock market into freefall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers. The most common story behind the Black Friday tradition has to do with retailers. After a full year of business, stores are supposed to turn a quick profit the day after Thanksgiving because shoppers will drop cash on deeply discounted merchandise. Retail companies at the time used in their accounting to record losses in red and profits in black, (that’s how Black…Friday is explained). This version of the origin of Black Friday is the officially sanctioned but inaccurate one.
In recent years, another myth has emerged that puts a particularly nasty twist on the tradition, claiming that back in the 1800s southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discount the day after Thanksgiving. Although this version has led some to call for a boycott of retail sales on that particular day, it has no basis in fact. The true story behind Black Friday, however, is not so pleasant. Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that followed the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of shoppers and tourists flooded the city before the big annual Army-Navy rugby game .
By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on as a name in Philadelphia, to such an extent that the city’s merchants tried unsuccessfully to change it to remove the negative connotations. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, and it wasn’t until 1985 that it gained common usage nationwide. However, in the late 1980s, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected its positives rather than its negatives. The true history of Black Friday has slowly been forgotten over time. The one-day sales have turned into four-day sales, while other sales days have been created such as “Small Business” (Saturday & Sunday, or Sunday & Monday).