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The History of Black Friday

  Posted on June 5, 2023 by GottaDEAL Staff

Black Friday, as it is known today, is the day after the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. It represents the unofficial launch of the holiday shopping season, characterized by massive discounts and promotional deals. But how did Black Friday originate? To answer that, we must delve into a fascinating journey across time, starting from financial panic to a shopping extravaganza.

The Financial Crash and the Original 'Black Friday'

The term 'Black Friday' was first used to denote a severe financial crisis. On September 24, 1869, the U.S. gold market crashed, and the fallout was catastrophic. This was triggered by Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, two notorious Wall Street financiers, who tried to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. When their scheme unraveled, it sent the stock market into free-fall, bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

However, the usage of 'Black Friday' in this context has no direct link to the post-Thanksgiving shopping tradition as we know it today.

From Philadelphia's Traffic Chaos to Retail Therapy

The modern application of the term 'Black Friday' was coined in Philadelphia in the 1960s, albeit with a less positive connotation. Police used it to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year.

City maintenance crews also had to deal with the additional mess, while law enforcement couldn't take the day off because of the traffic chaos and shoplifting sprees. Thus, the term 'Black Friday' was used to describe this challenging day.

However, retailers, cognizant of the negative connotations of the term, sought to re-imagine it. By the late 1980s, an alternative explanation emerged: Retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (recorded in red ink) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday, under this explanation, was the day when retailers would no longer be "in the red" but "in the black," turning a profit.

Black Friday: The Biggest Shopping Day of the Year

Despite its less-than-auspicious origins, by the late 20th century, Black Friday had become a significant event in American retail. Stores began to open earlier and offer deeper discounts to attract consumers, and it became known as the busiest shopping day of the year.

The expansion of Black Friday into a weekend-long event started in the early 2000s. Some retailers began to open their doors as early as 4 am. However, this practice pushed further into Thanksgiving Day itself, with stores opening as early as 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day in the 2010s.

It was also during this time that web sites such as GottaDEAL started covering Black Friday and posting leaked advance copies of the upcoming sale ads, in some cases against the wishes of the retailers themselves.

Black Friday Goes Global

In the 2010s, the Black Friday phenomenon went global. It was adopted by retailers in Canada, the UK, Mexico (where it's called "El Buen Fin"), and numerous other countries worldwide, often despite not celebrating Thanksgiving. This was partly influenced by global e-commerce, particularly the impact of multinational online retailers.

The Advent of Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday

As e-commerce began to take off in the early 21st century, the Monday following Thanksgiving was dubbed "Cyber Monday" in 2005 as a way to encourage people to shop online. With the advent of "Giving Tuesday," a day dedicated to charitable giving, what was once just Black Friday extended into a week-long event, each day with a different focus.

In conclusion, Black Friday has evolved from being associated with financial crises and urban chaos to becoming a cherished tradition marking the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Its journey is a testament to societal change and the global influence of retail and e-commerce. It will be interesting to observe how this phenomenon evolves in the coming years, shaped by emerging consumer habits and technological advancements.


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