The Surprising Reason Behind the Name "Black Friday"

The history of the name "Black Friday" is pretty dark.

woman shopping on black friday with bag that says "black friday" on it
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If you live in the United States, then you're likely all too familiar with Black Friday. It's the retail holiday on the day after Thanksgiving that actually offers some great deals on everything from electronics to the year's top toys—that is, if you can look past the overcrowding and mayhem, of course. But if this holiday is supposed to be about scoring sweet savings, then why is its name so dark? Well, there are quite a few theories surrounding the origins of the name "Black Friday."

As History notes, retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black. The stores operating at a loss—or "in the red"—tended to go back "into the black" on the day after Thanksgiving, so some people believe that this is where the name "Black Friday" originates from.

In reality, though, the origin of the holiday's moniker is a bit bleaker. According to The Telegraph, on Sept. 24, 1869, two Wall Street financiers, Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, bought a significant amount of gold, thinking that its price would soar. What actually happened, though, was that the U.S. gold market crashed, and everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers went bankrupt. Eventually, this day became known as "Black Friday"—but that still begs the question: How did the name become associated with the post-Thanksgiving period?

Well, fast-forward to the 1950s, when crowds of tourists and shoppers would flock to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy football game on the weekend after Thanksgiving. What resulted was traffic jams, widespread shoplifting, and chaos—all of which required police officers to work overtime during the holiday weekend.

Officers in Philly were naturally less than thrilled to be working the day after Thanksgiving, so they started using the term "Black Friday" to refer to the unpleasant experience, as you can see in this Philadelphia Inquirer article from 1967. The name even made its way into an advertisement published in The American Philatelist in 1966. And by the late 1980s, it was being used all across the nation.

Peter Strawbridge, president of Strawbridge & Clothier, a now-defunct retailer in Philadelphia, told The Philadelphia Inquirer back in 1984 that he wasn't a big fan of the grim-sounding name. "It sounds like the end of the world, and we really like the day," he said. "If anything, we should call it 'Green Friday.'"

Unfortunately, that name hasn't quite caught on. Retailers might not love that the shopping-focused holiday has such negative origins, but hey, if they want to be "in the black," it looks like they're going to have to get over it! And if you want to know what deals to avoid this Black Friday, check out 22 Things You Should Never Buy on Black Friday, According to Experts.

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