The History of Black Friday

It's not just you — Black Friday really does start earlier and earlier each year. This is the history of the post-Thanksgiving Day tradition. 🛍️

More countries are adopting the shopping phenomenon

Black Friday was first used by Philadelphia police in the 1960s to describe the post-Thanksgiving period when large crowds of shoppers would wreak havoc on the city. The crowds created traffic jams and chaos when they came for the Army-Navy football game. In the 1950s, people began calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving to give themselves a four-day weekend. But in the 1980s, retailers embraced the term for a different reason. Originally it got its name because that was the day when retailers went into the black during the holiday season.

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers. By the 1990s, Black Friday was synonymous with doorbuster sales and lightning deals. Over the next few decades, it became known for frenzied and chaotic shopping — with shoppers lining up outside stores overnight.

It has now spread to other countries with retailers adopting the shopping phenomenon. In 2011, retailers were criticized for opening their stores at midnight on Thanksgiving. But now stores like WalMart and BestBuy open by 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. As more people shop online, there’s less of the in-store frenzy. But Black Friday remains one of the biggest shopping days of the year. In 2019, about 115 million people in the U.S. will shop on Black Friday according to the National Retail Federation.