How did Black Friday get its name?
For most of us, autumn means silly sweater weather jokes, pumpkin-spiced everything, and, of course, the start of holiday shopping.
This frantic rush to find gifts for family and friends culminates on Black Friday.
In our mad dash to find the perfect gifts, we hear retailers pepper nearly every commercial with mentions of 'Black Friday' and we even use the phrase ourselves - but how often do we stop to consider why the term has become a part of our modern language?
A bit of research reveals that the origin of the phrase is a point contention among historians.
But the most commonly held belief is that the term 'Black Friday' finds its origin with two men named Fisk and Gould and then years later, was resurrected and redefined by a group of clever, yet overworked Philadelphia police officers.
Does this sound more like the overly-complicated plot to an Oceans movie than a historical fact? Perhaps. But sometimes the truth is even more complicated than an Oceans movie.
‘Black Friday’ became a commonly used term when a financial crisis brought Wall Street to its knees on Friday, September 24, 1869.
History points its finger at two Wall Street financiers as responsible for the disaster, Jim Fisk and Jay Gould.
Fisk and Gould believed that if they went in together on the purchase of a significant amount of U.S. gold, the price of gold would soar and they’d be able to sell in for a huge profit.
Unfortunately, they were wrong.
On the Friday mentioned above, the U.S. gold market crashed and Fisk and Gould’s actions left Wall Street tycoons bankrupt.
So, how did the term ‘Black Friday’ go from being associated with a financial crash to becoming a label for one of the most lucrative retail days of the year?
Well, some historians believe that years later, when shops in the U.S. began recording their accounting details by hand, they noted profits in black and loses in red.
Some say, though many stores were ‘in the red’ for most of the year, after Thanksgiving they made more money than usual. Shoppers, attracted by pre-Christmas discounts, flocked to the stores and made bulk purchases. So, in November, many shops found themselves ‘in the black,' and the phrase became associated with an upswing in business.
Now, this is the part where a clever group of police officers unwittingly got themselves involved and expanded the term even more.
During the 1950’s, droves of tourists visited Philadelphia for the post-Thanksgiving Army-Navy football game. The city was bursting at its seams with traffic jams and crowded stores, which led to a spike in shoplifting and related crimes.
The mass amount of visitors and the resulting havoc meant police officers were not able to take the day off from work. Instead, they worked extra-long shifts to control the carnage.
Because of this, Philadelphia officers began referring to the day after Thanksgiving as ‘Black Friday’ and when the public got wind of the term, they took to using it as well.
Despite some retailers disliking the new phrase and trying to change it to ‘Big Friday,’ the term grew in popularity.
In 1966, 'Black Friday' made its national print debut* in a well-known journal called, The American Philatelist.
And, by the late 1980’s, ‘Black Friday’ was a part of America’s vocabulary.
Though late November sales had been pretty good for retailers even before Philadelphia police officers began using the term ‘Black Friday,’ once the phrase took off, it seemed to make the holiday shopping season even more of a phenomenon.
So, Black Friday may have started out as a label for a financial crisis, but thanks to law enforcement finding a clever way to designate one of their busiest times of the year, retailers discovered yet another way of snagging America’s attention and, in effect, boosting the economy.
*The term 'Black Friday' had been used in other print articles, as early as 1951. But it is unknown whether the word was used on a national scale at that time.
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