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History and Origin of Black Friday: What Does the Name Mean?

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Dan enjoys writing about the origins of the most popular holidays from around the world.

Black Friday is beginning, and the crowds are gathering for it.

Black Friday is beginning, and the crowds are gathering for it.

What Is Black Friday?

Black Friday, as the day is known, is an unofficial holiday in the U.S.; it's the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is historically the first shopping day of the Christmas season.

How Did It Start?

In the late 19th and early 20th century, certain large department stores, notably Macy's, began holding Thanksgiving parades on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It gave the store an ideal opportunity to market their Christmas wares and was the opening of a very important period each year: the Christmas shopping season.

But how did the day come to be called Black Friday, and how has it changed over the years?

Between people and their purchases, there often isn't room to turn around!

Between people and their purchases, there often isn't room to turn around!

A Short History of Black Friday

Black Friday started out as pure commercialism even without the name. As time went on, that single day—heralding the start of the largest shopping period of the year—grew to the point that many companies make a large percentage of their income, if not all of it, in just one month.

It is extremely important to those companies that the season be successful, and they will promote anything that will help in that regard. It was at the request of merchants that FDR moved Thanksgiving up one week in 1939 to give an additional week to the season.

The Origins of the Name

In the late 1950s, factory management is said to have commented that the day gave rise to a disease causing absent employees—a disease only exceeded by the Black Death.

While that all too plausible tale cannot be documented, what can and was documented was a publication in Philadelphia that reported the police had come to call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" in reference to the extreme traffic, both auto and pedestrian, that was causing them no end of trouble. Thus, the name was coined after the very crowds that make Black Friday such a success for merchants.

The connotation, however, that Black Friday was Trouble with a capital T was cause for concern for the merchants profiting from it. In the 1980s, they began to circulate the story that the name came about because it was the first day of the year that most businesses were "in the black"—meaning the first profit of the year. This has almost no truth to it, as most companies earn a profit each quarter as seen in their SEC filings, but it made a good story to counteract the negativism of large crowds causing trouble.

What Time Black Friday Begins

Over the years, Black Friday has started earlier and earlier. At first, the sales usually started before the end of the parade as that's where people were informed of them, but the news now comes much earlier, and stores are opening at 5AM, 4AM, and even midnight. In 2010, Toys 'R' Us began Black Friday sales at 10PM Thanksgiving Day. Many large retailers now open Thursday night at midnight for Black Friday.

The reason for Black Friday, then, is to start off the Christmas shopping season with a bang. As Christmas is the largest such profit period, eclipsing even second place Halloween, this makes perfect sense to retailers. Loss leaders—items sold at a loss in the hopes that customers will buy additional items at full retail—are common, and discounts of as much as 80% or even more are not unheard of. It is, at its very roots, a day of consumerism and commercialism.

Will this be the next common sight at the food court on Black Friday?

Will this be the next common sight at the food court on Black Friday?

Black Friday Violence

This semi-holiday has seen its share of violence, too. The first Black Friday-related death occurred in 2008 as a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by crowds that broke down the door to the store just before opening time. Unwilling to stop ("I've been waiting in the cold too long already"), the crowd repeatedly trampled the employee and even the rescue personnel trying to save his life.

In 2010, A Toys 'R' Us customer was arrested for threatening to shoot other people waiting in line. Another man was arrested with a handgun, two knives, and a pepper spray grenade. In Buffalo, a man was trampled when the doors opened at a Target store, reminiscent of the scene at the Wal-Mart 2 years earlier.

2011 saw more of the same; one woman used pepper spray, injuring at least 20 other shoppers, "in an effort to gain an advantage" towards getting a low-priced Xbox. People have been shot and stabbed at these free-for-alls in the past, and although stores are taking ever-increasing safety measures, the violence hasn't stopped.

This could end up being the most important reason for the name of "Black Friday": the insane level of violence that mobs produce during a simple sale. People in the crush of the mob just seem to lose all common sense—there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of violence just because of a sale.

What about you, the reader?

Sources

© 2012 Dan Harmon

Comments

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on January 10, 2015:

Congrats on getting HOTD for this very interesting hub. ! I had heard about black Friday but was not aware of history behind it. I got to know so much about it in this very informative hub. Really sad to know that some persons lost their lives in the stampedes.

Better Yourself from North Carolina on December 02, 2013:

I have to admit I enjoy Black Friday, and have thankfully not experienced such horrifying circumstances such as pepper spray or worse. The stores in our city have been pretty organized, especially Target! And I do my best to friendly and courteous and usually end up making friends while standing in line or helping people track stuff down if I know where it is.

Clayton Hartford from Alger WA on November 29, 2013:

As someone who wore the Red and Kaki for 7 years AKA Target employee. I both enjoyed and Dreaded the day after Thanksgiving, it was so busy that your shift flew by, but it was so busy that you had no time to think you were on auto pilot the whole day. Don't to the early morning anymore, but may run out Friday evening if there is something really neat.My in-laws are coming over for thanksgiving next year and I might take them shopping so they can see why I dreaded the day so much.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 29, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD! Very well done.

I had heard the tale that it was about the merchants' bottom line being "in the black," and it is verrrrrrrryyyy interrrresstinnnnggg to learn that is a falsehood. (Though I cannot say I am overly surprised.)

Many false statements are made in the name of promoting profit above all else, not the least of which come from our politicians who are bought by commercial lobbyists.

It always saddens and angers me that everyone insists on going shopping on this day, or worse yet, on Thanksgiving day itself, to become embroiled in a turbulent, potentially violent mob scene, all in the name of shopping for a holiday that is supposed to be about peace and good will toward fellow mankind; instead, they act like uncivilized savages.

It sickens me, and I will have no part of it. I refuse to even leave the house on that day. I have written countless Facebook posts, blog articles and assorted pleas to discourage or even encourage a boycott of this tradition, all to no avail, it seems. There is no end to consumer greed, ergo, no end to the tradition, because greedy shoppers are feeding the greedy corporations!

My elder daughter's birthday is Nov. 29th, and it always irked me that they would count my purchase of her birthday gifts as part of their 'holiday sales.' I began shopping for her birthday just before Halloween as a result.

Voted up, interesting and useful.

The Examiner-1 on November 29, 2013:

I always wondered why it was called 'Black Friday' and what was so special about it. When I hear the name I think of Halloween or black clouds - not Thanksgiving or Christmas. I do not go shopping on it and I have been hearing commercials this week about Black Friday sales starting on about Wednesday!

Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on November 29, 2013:

Congrats on winning HOTD!

Thanks for sharing this with us. It is interesting to see the photos you used, because I work at Target. Actually, I worked when they opened at 8 pm on Thursday night this year. It was a mad rush of people, but at least it went well.

Have a great day!

~ Kathryn

Cheryl on November 29, 2013:

Today many people have been killed because of black Friday and I think they need to ban it to keep innocent workers from dying at the hands of people who want to save 20 dollars on a tv. Sickening how we are thankful on Thursday and kill others on Friday. People should be ashamed of themselves for acting like barbaric people.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 29, 2013:

My thanks to all all who have read or commented here. Your thoughts are appreciated - I just wish I could reply too all who took the time to leave a few words.

I am visiting family in a small town, and for the first time ever, went shopping on Black Friday. I doubt it will happen again - although I got what I wanted, it was really not worth the time in the crowd, even in a small town. It just is not my bag of tea.

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on November 29, 2013:

Pretty good hub and congrats on HOTD. But for what it's worth, I dislike the whole premise of Black Friday. Reckless consumerism, exaggerated spending, hordes of lunatics just trying to save a few bucks... ugh! Hence, my vote went to "No way you're gonna catch me on that mob".

Imogen French from Southwest England on November 29, 2013:

Very interesting. I have seen several references to Black Friday sales in the UK today, but wasn't quite sure how it came about. I am not too keen on all the negative connotations associated with it, so won't be participating myself. I really do not like the commercial side of Christmas.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on November 29, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD! Topical aricle for today. I am not in the stores today. I dislike Black Friday and I stay at home and away from the crazy mobs of customers. I can't imagine anyone getting killed over buyers greed. That is just something I don't want to be part of. Too crazy!

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on November 29, 2013:

Congratulations on your HOTD award, wilderness. This is a fantastic hub full of information. The history that you present is really interesting. Well done.

loveofnight from Baltimore, Maryland on November 29, 2013:

a good read indeed, thanks for the share.

Scott P Williams on November 29, 2013:

I agree with Writer Fox, it's a bad experience and some of the deals are not that great anyway.

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on November 29, 2013:

Wow - I love reading the real story behind phrases we hear constantly but don't understand! Black Friday is one of those. Congrats on the HOTD! A very timely choice!

DREAM ON on November 29, 2013:

Very good hub and I never knew the history.I have been there in the past. Now I prefer to take a cat nap and watch it on the news. Have a good day.

anndango on November 29, 2013:

Very interesting! I live in Canada and we don't have Black Friday, although it is starting to creep in which is crazy. Black Friday in the U.S. is associated with Thanksgiving but our Thanksgiving is the first Monday in October. Our busiest shopping day is Boxing Day where people go crazy (although I don't think anyone has died yet). Anyway, I hate consumerism and not much of a shopper. I have never participated in Boxing Day sales and now with Black Friday creeping into Canada, I won't go shopping today either!!!

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on November 29, 2013:

Black Friday, never done it, never will! It's madness, I think. People getting stomped on, and even reports of death through rampage here in Georgia.

It's sad that these same people that camped out all night to get stuffs for their loved ones wouldn't care enough to spend some quality time with those same loved ones. Ask them to stay in church for two hours and here them complain.

Misplaced priorities if you ask me. Voted up and interesting.

Mark Lees on November 29, 2013:

Annoyingly Black Friday has reached the UK now, although not the the same scale that you have in the US. Probably at least partly to do with Wal-Marts acquisition of ASDA (one of our biggest retailers) and other large American owned stores dominating areas of the market.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 23, 2013:

I'd have to agree with you, even though I've never tried it early in the morning. The only way I'll shop on Black Friday is much later in the day, when the mob has quietened down a little.

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on May 23, 2013:

I think this is the worst possible day to go shopping in the U.S. It's a traumatic experience!

torrilynn on November 26, 2012:

I liked reading your story. I've always wondered the history behind Black Friday and how it started. Voted Up.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 21, 2012:

It has been an interesting, if sad and disappointing, phenomenon. Who would have though that it would turn so violent, just to get a cheap toy?

hecate-horus from Rowland Woods on November 21, 2012:

I admit, I was caught up in the Black Friday frenze a few times ( However, I never camped out overnight or wrestled anyone!), but the savings were never worth the hassle. Now I stay far away from that madness. IMO, Black Friday is living proof we still have a very savage side to us; judging by the deaths and violence every year...all just to get "stuff". Sad. (But good hub!)

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 21, 2012:

You and I both, PaisleeGal. I certainly agree that the money makers are the advertisers as well - that's what the day is all about.

Pat Materna from Memphis, Tennessee, USA on November 20, 2012:

Good article. I have never nor will I ever be involved in this shopping frenzy craziness. The folks making the real money are all the advertising mediums!! Voted up.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on November 20, 2012:

I just did a little paragraph or tow about it on my affiliate blog....lol...scary stuff. No wonder Friday the 13 is so scary...hehehe.

The first black Friday was actually a gold scandal caused by Jay Gould and James Fisk dating back some 200 years. For years black Friday was a "bad day" until merchants started giving their employees the day off thinking that something bad was going to happen....lol lol lol, I know it's a serious matter but I can't help laughing about it.

Judi Brown from UK on November 20, 2012:

I keep seeing references to Black Friday, but it's not something we have in the UK, so didn't really know what it was (I gathered it was shopping related, but didn't know why). Thanks for the information - another good reason to dislike shopping as far as I'm concerned :)

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 07, 2012:

Nope. Me neither - black Friday just isn't my cup of tea. You nailed it - commercialism gone mad - and that isn't something I enjoy.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on October 07, 2012:

Not on my list of things to do ever! Commercialism gone mad. Thanks for the interesting info.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on August 05, 2012:

I have been black Friday shopping just once, in a town of about 10,000. I now live in an area with nearly a half million people and won't consider it. Like you I go later in the day and forget about those few super buys - ordinary sales will do me just fine.

moonlake from America on July 27, 2012:

We have went shopping on black friday a few times early in the morning. We live in a small town. I would never in a million years do it in a city. It's actually not worth it so now we just go later in the day if at all. Voted up on your interesting and enjoyed reading it.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 18, 2012:

It really is 'black' to me - I agree that it is incredible what people can do in a shopping mob like we see today.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on July 18, 2012:

Interesting and very 'black'. How dreadful people should get killed in a shopping mob. Thanks for the tales.

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