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The Evolution of a Sale: A History of Black Friday

October 19, 2018 | By Ana Elliot

Ah, the holidays: a time to drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Peppermint hot chocolate. It's also a time for shopping for all the people you love. If you are hitching your holiday shopping dreams to the cart of the infamous Black Friday, you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of American shoppers will turn out this year for the fantastic sales and products that will carry them through Christmas and into the New Year.

But what is Black Friday, really? How did it come into existence and how did it become the big doorbuster of a day we know, love, and fear today? Well, we’ve got some fun facts about the history of Black Friday that should leave you informed and impressed.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, the day after Thanksgiving was just the unofficial start of Christmas Season – a fact often attributed to the Thanksgiving parades that ended with an appearance of Santa Claus. The first usage of the term, “Black Friday” had nothing to do with shopping. It was used after the financial crisis on September 24, 1869. Two financial bigwigs on Wall Street, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, attempted to drive gold prices up by buying up the majority of the stock. The plot failed and sent the stock market plummeting. It was indeed, a dark Friday in 1869.

The term was also used in Philadelphia from the 1950s to refer to the day after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t a happy term, since it described the chaos that occurred when the population took to the streets to start their holiday shopping. It caused traffic congestion and issues for law enforcement at the time. The term, in relation to this chaos on Philadelphia, was even used in The New York Times in 1975. From there, the term slowly began to gain traction throughout the country.

Retail Opportunity

As the term spread, retailers tried to change it into something that sounded less ominous but renames such as “Big Friday” didn’t stick. There is even the myth that the name came from retailers moving from the “red” (being in financial loss) to the “black” (profit) during the Holiday season. While this origin of the term has been found inaccurate, such a phenomenon does happen in the bustle of holiday shopping. This new origin of the story ended up superseding the darker roots to help give the day happier overtones.

Retailers began to capitalize on the term and the day but as late as the 1980s, the term was still not household across the US. That finally happened in the 2000s, and since then, the one-day shopping extravaganza has grown and stretched its reach. In recent years, there have been “Black Thursdays” where retailers such as Target and Walmart open their doors in the evening on Thanksgiving Day.

The fervor of Black Friday even reached into the online sphere and spawned “Cyber Monday” where online retailers such as Amazon offer sales and price reductions on much of their offerings. The result is often a 4-5 day long extended weekend of sales and shopping to usher in the Christmas season.

Violence Abounds

It would be remiss to give a history of Black Friday and forget to mention the violence that has sprung from it. The day itself has resorted back to the chaos that inspired the first use of the term in Philadelphia. Crowds swarm stores and customers and employees alike have been injured or even killed in the rush for great deals. This very thing happened in 2008 when an employee of the Walmart in Valley Stream, NY was trampled to death as impatient customers rushed into the store. Shoppers have even fired guns at each other as happened in 2013 in Los Vegas when a Target shopper was shot in the leg while trying to get the TV that had been stolen from him.

The message here is: Black Friday is a shopping holiday like no other. You will find sales, crowds, and even violence if you don’t watch your back! It’s important to prepare yourself for the holiday season and that might just mean a trip out on Black Friday. If you’re heading out, just be careful— for yourself and your budget. You don’t want to end up over spending on Black Friday and being forced to look for title loans to get through the rest of the Christmas season. Lastly, be courteous. If everyone was a little more courteous in their Black Friday shopping, it would be a safer environment for all. Happy Shopping!