Black Friday’ born in chaos

Wes Franklin

I recently read an interesting little story on the origins of the term “Black Friday” as it relates to post-Thanksgiving shopping. 

I’ll give you the abridged version here. 

There has long been a version floating around that “Black Friday” was named such because retailers were guaranteed to be “in the black” that day. It was the one day they were sure to turn a profit. 

According to one source, which I believe is pretty reliable as it it relates to this anyway, that story was marketed by big retail chains in the late 1980s as a way to put a positive spin on the term.

Supposedly the real genesis of the term “Black Friday” as we know it in regards to after-Thanksgiving shopping sprees dates back to the 1950s and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The cops there nicknamed the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” because of the bedlam that occurred with people flooding into Philly for Saturday’s annual Army-Navy football game. Apparently it was - and I suppose still is - quite a deal. Tens of thousands of additional servicemen, plus civilian fans, all in one place, pre-game partying and rabble-rousing? Plus all the vehicle traffic. Car accidents, fights, and crime spiked on that day. Police officers there dreaded the day after Thanksgiving, and probably still do. 

By 1961 the term “Black Friday” had become an established phrase in Philadelphia and got so popular that the merchants and other retailers there started marketing it. That year is the “official” year of its birth, but the term had been around for years before that. 

The Philadelphia retailers unsuccessfully tried to rebrand it “Big Friday” to remove the negative connotations, but “Black Friday” is more fun to say and is what stuck. 

The term began to spread to other parts of the country, but it wasn’t until about the middle of the 1980s that “Black Friday” became a nationally known thing, and that was through the marketing efforts of the big chain stores. 

If all of the above is indeed accurate, the term “Black Friday” was born in chaos. We’ve all heard, or even witnessed or experienced, crazy stories from Black Friday shopping. I’d say it’s pretty fitting, then. 

Of course, anymore Black Friday shopping actually starts on Thanksgiving Day itself, or maybe even Wednesday for all I know. I don’t get out much - especially at that time! 

-Wes Franklin writes a weekly column, That History Guy, for The Neosho Daily News.