Black Friday: History, Who Created It, And Why Do We Have It?
Black Friday shopping. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
In recent decades, a new holiday tradition cropped up in the United States: Black Friday shopping. The day after Thanksgiving, retailers around the country open their doors early, offering incredible deals to the throngs of shoppers who beat down their doors in their haste to secure that year's hottest Christmas gift. The appetite for discounts has become so insatiable that Black Friday has begun encroaching upon Thanksgiving itself, with major retailers opening Thursday evening and staying open all night to extend sales as long possible. But why? Where did this tradition come from? Let's take a look at the origins of Black Friday and just how far the history of this celebration of capitalism goes back.
An early Thanksgiving celebrations. (smithsonianmag.com)
Black Friday Is As Old As Thanksgiving
Americans have been celebrating a fall feast to give thanks for a bountiful harvest for as long as America has been a thing, but it wasn't until Abraham Lincoln became president that the event was officially scheduled for the last Thursday of every November. Although the date has changed over the years, folks began thinking of the day after Thanksgiving as the unofficial start of the Christmas season. It wasn't yet called Black Friday, however, because the term actually meant something else during that time.
The term "Black Friday" actually started with the 1869 stock market crash. (pbs.org)
The Origins Of The Term "Black Friday"
On September 24, 1869, the stock market crashed after two stock speculators named James Fisk and Jay Gould artificially inflated the price of gold, creating a boom-bust scenario. Although it was swiftly overshadowed by the 1929 crash, it was devastating at the time, with stock prices plummeting by more than 50%. Since the crash happened on a Friday, it was referred to as "Black Friday."
An early photograph of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (allthatsinteresting.com)
Back To Thanksgiving
The first Thanksgiving Day parade took place in 1905, when Canadian-based department store Eaton's hosted the event in downtown Toronto. A few years later, the parade expanded to include eight live reindeer pulling Santa in a wagon, and by 1916, it was complete with floats and costumed characters. The parade was such a hit that the owners of the Macy's department store in New York City decided to host their own Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924. The parade encouraged visitors to come into the city and shop, so store owners banded together to offer specials when they opened for business the day after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Franklin D. Roosevelt designated Thanksgiving to be on the fourth Thursday of November. (biography.com)
Roosevelt, Thanksgiving, And Black Friday
The way the month of November shook out in 1939, when the country was in the grips of the Great Depression, put its last Thursday in the fifth week of the month. Retailers were already struggling to stay afloat amid the economic downturn, and they were fearful that cutting a week off the holiday shopping season would effectively bankrupt some of the merchants, so they took their cause to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They pressured him to move Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of the month, thereby encouraging shoppers to start spending their money earlier. The resulting confusion was a big mess, and in 1941, Congress stepped in to mandate that Thanksgiving would always be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
Shopping in the 1950s. (pinterest.com)
A Thursday Holiday Begs For a Three-Day Weekend
After World War II, the economy was thriving, and Americans were hard at work in the offices and factories of the country. Employers customarily gave their workers the day off on Thanksgiving to enjoy the festivities with their families, but they began to notice that their employees often called in sick the day after Thanksgiving, which just happened to afford them a long weekend. Those "sick" workers often took advantage of the rare weekday off work to do some Christmas shopping. Many frustrated employers eventually gave up and started offering the day after Thanksgiving as a paid holiday simply because being closed for the day was less of a headache than running an understaffed business.
Traffic snarls caused by holiday shoppers earned the name Black Friday. (welikela.com)
Dubbing The Day "Black Friday"
The first time that the Friday after Thanksgiving was called Black Friday was in 1966. That year, the police department of Philadelphia experienced a traffic nightmare when cars jammed the downtown streets and parking lots while shoppers flooded the stores. A police officer who was quoted in The American Philatelist referred to the traffic chaos as "Black Friday," and the name stuck.
Could Black Friday be named for an accounting phrase? (courses.lumenlearning.com)
"In the Black"
Most people have come to believe that Black Friday has to do with the profit-loss cycle of retail businesses. According to popular stories, the majority of stores operated "in the red," or at a loss, for most of the year and counted on the uptick in sales during the holiday season to move into "the black," or turn a profit. In this story, Black Friday was so named because it was the day that businesses started seeing an annual profit.
Black Friday is a shopper's paradise. (timeline.com)
The Black Friday Boom
Many shoppers spend half of their holiday shopping budget on Black Friday. In 2011, numerous retailers opened on Thanksgiving Day for the first time, a move that drew both praise and criticism. Holiday sales increased considerably after that, and while there's no word on the decrease in family arguments around the holiday dining table, it's safe to assume that it's a win-win situation.