Why Is It Called Black Friday?

Jamie Hayes

Why Is It Called Black Friday?

Black Friday. It’s a name that makes retailers rejoice…and their employees shudder. It seems like every year, people manage to commit more and more horrible acts in this annual frenzy of consumerism. But why is it called Black Friday? Surely shoppers haven’t always been so deranged, and stores absolutely love the influx of money it brings, so where does the dark name come from?

Well, there are actually a few stories about Black Friday’s etymological origins—and not all of them are true.

Black in the Ledger

For years, retailers pushed the idea that the name comes from the fact that the huge sales on the day after Thanksgiving put them “in the black,” meaning they’re making money. This is opposed to being “in the red,” in reference to the red pen commonly used to report losses. So, according to these merchants, the “Black” in Black Friday was really a good thing. Any resemblance to ancient plagues or stock market crashes was just a coincidence.

It makes sense that stores would prefer this positive origin story—after all, Black Friday is the biggest day of the year for many sellers. But, as it turns out, the “black in the ledger” origin is, at best, making the best of a bad situation. At worst, it’s an outright lie. Either way, that’s not why it’s called Black Friday.

A Mysterious Sickness

We first used “Black Friday” to refer to the day after Thanksgiving in Factory Management and Maintenance in 1951. The publication called it that because workers would call in sick that day in order to get a four-day weekend. Those people also happened to get a head-start on their holiday shopping. They could be the first to get to the stores while all the other suckers were at work.

But while that was the first use of Black Friday for the fourth Friday in November, it didn’t exactly catch on. Believe it or not, Factory Management and Maintenance was not a huge tastemaker.

Philadelphia Philosophy

No, the name “Black Friday” really started gaining steam after Philadelphia authorities started using it, also in the early 1950s. They noticed that crowds and traffic congestion ramped up right after Thanksgiving, so they gave the day the dark nickname.

Yet even after the Philly authorities started calling it Black Friday, it was decades before the term gained the widespread familiarity it enjoys today. In the 1980s, after a failed attempt to rebrand the day as “Big Friday,” retailers started spreading the “black in the ledger” story. Probably because it steered people away from the day’s more violent tendencies…

Growing Into the Name

Reports of violent retail frenzies started in the 80s, but they have really reached a fever pitch in the 21st century. Since 2006, there have been 12 deaths and 117 injuries reported in the United States on the dark day. News stories of brutal acts, employees perishing, and customers pepper-spraying rivals seem to be expected nowadays.

So while retailers may have tried to push their black in the ledger concept, it seems like Black Friday has only gotten darker and darker as the years have gone on. However, with the emergence of online retailers and Cyber Monday, many consumers are realizing that it’s a whole lot easier to shop from the comfort of their couches. Who needs the stampedes and pepper spray anymore? So who knows, maybe we’ll see fewer and fewer Black Friday catastrophes in the future. One can hope, at least.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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