Holidays Explained: The History of Black Friday

Black Friday: the infamous term synonymous with tremendous savings is one we’ve heard quite often. We know some people brawl out over the best play station or wait in line at 3 am to snag a new lenovo, but where did it all start? When did the day after Thanksgiving take such an all-out commercially-driven turn? Hey, we’re not complaining – we just want to get the story straight. We do love a good deal after all. Before you go diving into some delicious deals, check out the History of Black Friday.


The History of Black Friday

Turkey time is looming over us yet again. With Halloween in the rear view mirror,  we start to look forward to the other wonderfully close holidays. It’s an appropriate time to bundle up and spend some quality moments with family members over a holiday feast and to reminisce over the good times we’ve experienced over the past year. (Thanksgiving is another holiday whose story has become muddled over time. But that is for another article.)

Thanksgiving turkey

After the left over have been stuffed into the fridge, the Black Friday madness begins. The ultimate shopping day of the year starts before Thanksgiving even ends. Hundreds of thousand of shoppers will stake out their place on cold concrete sidewalks in loose lines that stretch around city blocks. Their noses pressed up to the glass of whatever big box retail store they’ve chosen to haunt. They wait for their chance to save big on the latest TV, computer, game or whatever their heart desires.

The true history of of the holiday is always a story worth telling.  Several recent records of the date’s history involve outright falsehoods. We want to bring a modicum of sanity back to what is considered to be, one of the most hectic days of the year.

Very hectic black friday

Slavery and shop profits

If you’ve heard the origin story that involves slaves from American plantations being sold off the day after Thanksgiving, go ahead and banish that theory from your memory. It’s about as accurate as other popular myths revolving around Black Friday. Another is how the name supposedly originated due to it being the first day of the year retails operate “in the black” or at a profit. While this is a less horrifying and more sensible suggestion, that’s not quite the case, either.

The term is actually rooted in mid-19th century history.  As is appropriate for a date often linked to trampling incidents and mass hysteria, the Black Friday of 1869 involved market speculation and the cornering of the gold market that nearly toppled the United States’ economy less than a decade after the conclusion of the Civil War. With a price-raising scheme foiled by the release of extra government-backed gold, the economy took a serious hit and the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant was significantly tarnished, among other ramifications.

Black Friday Shopping Bags

The true story

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but the truthful history of Black Friday is far less exciting than a stock market crash after wild speculation. Philadelphia police coined the term in the late 1950s. The term refers to the throngs of suburban shoppers who would flood the city and force officers to take extra long shifts to handle the rush. From there, merchants caught on and used the term to refer to the general madness that followed.

There was a push in the early 1960s to re-brand the holiday to Big Friday to try and escape the connotations given by the early madness. But the history of Black Friday and its continued popularity remains a unique mark on American culture. It even caught on in other countries. Countries like the UK, Germany and France have their own Black Fridays.  Feel free to go out and save on a brand new television, but do your best not to end up flattened. Your family will be too full of turkey to shuttle you home for a few days.

And thankfully, in this new millennia of immediate satisfaction, you can shop safely online. Why not sit back and relax from the comfort of your home and snag some deals? You can find all sorts of Black Friday exclusives from all your favorite stores. You don’t need to always brave the cold to get the deal.  Just open the computer, throw on some sweatpants (warranted after the turkey) and start clicking.  (Consider ramping up your internet security also, where there is a lot of online activity, there are a lot of instances for viruses). Save some money and your body temperature.

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