November 25, 2013

How Did Black Friday Get Its Name?


The Friday following the celebration of Thanksgiving Day is commonly considered the beginning of the season for Christmas shopping, and many, if not most, retailers in the United States have marked the important day by providing exceptional discounts on what is now commonly referred to as "Black Friday".

Tremendous shopping activity has marked Black Friday, with retailers cutting the prices of their goods by as much as 99%, obviously serving as shopping bait for discount-hungry consumers.

But how did Black Friday get its name in the first place? Why not use "Green Friday" instead to symbolize money, or "Red and Green Friday" to symbolize Christmas? Why the ever-so-glum black to represent a supposedly good day for both shoppers and retailers?

Unfortunately, the term's beginnings are not as filled with cheer as American shoppers associate "Black Friday" with today.


In September 24, 1869, a Friday, several speculators, headed by James Fisk and Jay Gould, attempted to make a huge profit by manipulating the supply and prices of gold. To do so, Fisk and Gold found a way of getting then US President Ulysses Grant to hire General Daniel Butterfield for the position of assistant Treasurer of the country. Butterfield was, in turn, tasked with tipping his handlers on when the government would sell its supply of gold.

With the plan in place, Gould began his buying spree of gold and never sold it, thus causing the price of gold to rise and its stock to crash. When President Grant learned about this, he attempted to avert the situation by selling $4 million of the government's gold supplies, thus causing the price of gold to plummet and many men to lose their fortunes. In turn, people called the day "Black Friday" because of the grim events that followed as a result of the day's proceedings, the consequences including Grant undergoing a Congressional investigation, Butterfield resigning from his post, and a financial crisis that would take months for the United States to recover from.


The first known documented use of the term "Black Friday" to refer to the day of shopping the first Friday after Thanksgiving was in a 1961 newsletter. The publication mentioned that the policemen of Philadelphia referred to the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving as "Black Friday" and "Black Saturday" because of the monstrous traffic jams and seas of pedestrians they had to deal with on these heavy shopping days.

The publication also mentioned that the merchants discussed the term with Abe Rosen, then Deputy City Representative, because the terms "Black Friday" and "Black Saturday" were not good stimuli for business, and he recommended that the terms "Big Friday" and "Big Saturday" be used instead. However, the attempt to rename these heavy shopping days proved to be unsuccessful.

In fact, in 1966, a Philadelphia publication again mentioned the term "Black Friday" saying that it wasn't a term of endearment to Philadelphia policemen who equated the day with "over-crowded sidewalks" and "massive traffic jams", downtown stores being mobbed from their opening times until they closed.

Later, in 1975, newspaper articles published on November 29 referred to both Philadelphia policemen and bus drivers calling the Friday after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" with shoppers going on buying sprees despite the economic slowdown at that time. However, one of the two publications mentioned that Los Angeles and Cincinnati retailers were still not aware of the term "Black Friday".

It is not clear, however, if the term "Black Friday" was coined by Philadelphia policemen in reference to the financial crisis of 1869.


In the early 1980s, an alternative theory was circulated as an answer to the question "How did black Friday get its name?" According to this theory, the term "Black Friday" actually referred to the color of ink that was used by retailers to make marks in their financial records. This is because, if the theory is to be believed, retailers marked negative amounts, referring to losses, in red ink, while positive amounts, referring to profits, were marked in black ink.

The theory further posits that a majority of retailers experienced financial losses throughout most of the year, but made up for these losses beginning on the first Friday after Thanksgiving all the way up to Christmas day in December. Thus, the theory goes that retailers most often used red ink in their record books from January to mid-November because these were unprofitable months, but switched to using black ink the Friday after Thanksgiving until late December since these were profitable weeks. Hence the term "Black Friday".


Today, while Black Friday is an event anticipated by most shoppers and retailers, it is still dreaded by law enforcers and government officials. The huge discounts offered on this day have resulted in several cases of assaults and shootings, people even being trampled to death in shoppers' attempts to avail of the best deals on products before supplies ran out.

Hopefully, however, succeeding Black Fridays will be more orderly so that shoppers and retailers can greet the opening of the annual shopping season on a positive and festive note.

The store of Black Friday updated.