a history of America's favorite shopping day

BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Black Friday is one of the USA’s biggest shopping days, and has been for quite some time. The tremendous discounts offered at some of our favorite retailers are enough to spur many people seeking to pick up big-ticket items into action. Add the fact that it occurs so close to December, and it becomes a prime time to pick up the hottest items for the holiday season.

Nowadays, many of us not only participate in the seasonal rush or take advantage of deals, to the point where it may as well be a holiday tradition in it’s own right. But while many of our holidays have their roots in historical, monumental, or religious events, it seems odd that Black Friday fits right along with these major events during the season… but, lo and behold, there is a history to the day that has its own level of infamy.

What’s most peculiar regarding the origins of Black Friday, however, is that there are many different ideas of what many believe to be the ‘real’ origin of the holiday. One of the thoughts regarding the origin — undoubtedly the darkest of them — stems from claims that in the 1800s, Southern plantation owners could purchase slaves at discounted rates immediately after Thanksgiving. These claims, while horrific in implication, do not have any historical backing to them. This hasn’t stopped some from protesting the shopping day, but it is usually regarded today as a false origin story.

The first proper use of the term ‘Black Friday’ backed with historical context, ironically enough, has nothing to do with the funding lull most experience after doing their holiday shopping — but a whole different kind of economical woe. The term, in particular, references a major gold market crash on September 24 back in 1869.

The events leading up to what some perceive as the beginning of Black Friday stemmed from a joint effort from financier Jay Gould and railroad tycoon James Fisk. The two hoped to stockpile gold and keep it away from the public, thus driving up its price and allowing them to sell it for much higher profits. To keep government gold away, the two relied on political influence — a plot that eventually reached the ear of the president at the time, Ulysses S. Grant. He responded by ordering $4,000,000 of government gold to be sold on the market — plunging not only gold prices but the entire stock market down with it. The Friday of the sale would later come to be considered one of the main forces behind Black Friday as a whole.

The most well-known of the ideas behind Black Friday has its beginnings in, of course, retailers. Supposedly, it comes from the day that retailers could make up for poor sales. It was believed that after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”), stores would earn a profit and reenter the “black” on the day after Thanksgiving. While this version of the story may be seen by many as official, it’s still inaccurate.

Despite all of these ideas and origins, there is an actual origin that can be traced regarding its evolution into a shopping holiday. In the 1950s, the term was actually used to describe the day after Thanksgiving by Philadelphia police officers. During these times, those who arrived early in the city for the annual Army-Navy Football Game would barrel into the local community, causing chaos across the city and especially in stores. If it wasn’t bad enough for the retailers working overtime and dealing with constant streams of customers, it was even worse for the police — not only were days off banned on ‘Black Friday’, but the officers had to deal with their fair share of shoplifters and fights.

Despite the chaos, Black Friday became so profitable that there was even an attempt to change the name to ‘Big Friday’ to remove the dark connotations. After the idea began to spread outside of Philadelphia in the 80s, it was eventually retooled by retailers into something that would take the ‘red to black’ idea into a more positive light.

‘Black Friday’ began to serve as a staple of the season, and eventually even spawn a sequel of sorts in Cyber Monday. The initial ideas of the term have vanished, and now, it’s the shopping holiday we all know and love.

Do you go out and shop on Black Friday? Are you one of the individuals who get their deals online instead? Let us know on our social media pages!

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