What is Black Friday?
By Simonbook - 27 Nov 2015 in
Contrary to popular belief, the term "Black Friday" has nothing to do with retailers’ bottom lines turning from red to black (more on that later). It’s certainly possible, mind you, given the incredible amount of spending that occurs during the weekend. In 2014, $50.9 billion was spent by 133 million U.S. consumers during the four-day Black Friday weekend (down 11 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from 2013).
So, where does the Black Friday name come from? Here’s a look at the shopping holiday’s surprisingly brief history.
1951 – The earliest use of "Black Friday" to describe the day after Thanksgiving (although not related to shopping or sales) was published in M.J. Murphy's "Tips to Good Human Relations for Factory Executives." In the article, Murphy warned employers to be on the lookout for employees calling in sick on Friday in order to enjoy a four-day weekend, calling it "a disease second only to the (black) plague in its effects."
1950s – The exact year is unclear, but the setting was Philadelphia. Center City, Philadelphia, to be more precise. Shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving was already an annual tradition for Americans (a tradition often traced to the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924), but in the City of Brotherly Love, it was a day of mayhem, madness and traffic jams. Philadelphia police are credited with coining the derisive name "Black Friday" (and "Black Saturday") to describe the chaos.
1961 – Though still focused in the Philadelphia region, Black Friday was, by now, commonly used to describe the day-long shopping spree that kicked off the Christmas season. Viewing the term as unpleasant and slightly scary (which it was), Philadelphia retailers hired PR consultant Abe Rosen, who attempted to change the name from "Black Friday" to "Big Friday." The name didn’t stick, and Black Friday as we now know it was here to stay.
1981 – Retailers had resigned themselves to the unpleasantness of the Black Friday moniker but decided that if they couldn’t change the name, maybe they could change the story of its meaning and origin. And so, in the November 28, 1981, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the "black ink theory" — that Black Friday was when retailers’ annual bottom lines transformed from red to black — was born. It’s unclear if the more positive explanation was the product of a concerted public relations effort or just a lucky break.
1990 – The Black Friday name had yet to catch on in Los Angeles or even Chicago, and was still mostly confined to Philadelphia and surrounding markets. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the term finally caught on nationally.
2010 – No longer a holiday solely for big box retailers, many restaurants began offering Black Friday deals in hopes of luring the more than 30 million Americans who will dine out on the busy day. Though special prices on meals had become commonplace, restaurants also tapped into the gift-buying theme of the day by offering discounts on gift cards.
2011 – Walmart made headlines (and attracted plenty of criticism) by becoming the first major retailer to open its doors on Thanksgiving. The store’s 10 p.m. Thursday opening would encourage other retailers to follow suit in 2012. That year, Walmart opened its doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with Sears, Kmart, Target and Toys "R" Us doing the same. The practice has inspired some to refer the Thanksgiving shopping day as "Gray Thursday" or "Brown Thursday." Both names, thankfully, have yet to catch on.