Do You Know The Real History Of Black Friday?
Over the last several years, Black Friday has become quite the sport. Retailers are becoming more creative and competitive, while shoppers are becoming smarter and savier in the way that they buy. But did you know Black Friday didn’t originate as a day to “shop and save”?
The actual tale behind the mega-retail day is actually much more sinister, involving a devastating stock market crash, rumors of the slave trade, and assaults on suffragettes. Before you hit the stores, take a peek into the early beginnings of this chaotic day of savings and uncover a grisly history that will have you giving thanks to online shopping this Thanksgiving.
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The Origin of Black Friday
Black Friday marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season and is one of the busiest times of the year for anyone working in a retail store. It’s believed that the phrase ‘Black Friday’ originated because the immense amount of sales and surge in spending put companies ‘in the black’ for the year.
But that’s not how the phrase was used. Before the retail industry put its commercial spin on the day, it had a much more grim meaning.
When a day is ‘black,’ it is usually used to indicate that it was bad. Think ‘Black Monday.’ Black Monday was a severe global and unexpected stock market crash on Monday, October 19th, 1987. The very earliest use of the phrase ‘black Friday was in 1869, and it was the day that gold prices caused a market crash; the entire nation and economy felt the effects for years following.
Like the Great Depression, the first Black Friday was devastating for more than just a few families. People suffered greatly, losing their savings and livelihoods within a few hours. The stock market unraveled and sent the stock market into freefall, bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.
It’s also said that in the 1800s, southern plantation owners could buy enslaved workers at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. This has been found just to be a rumor, but it adds a gruesome twist to the tradition of the shopping spree.
The term survived to be used again and again, including a 1910 incident in England where police assaulted hundreds of suffragettes at a protest, noted by Richard Townley in The Washington Times.
By 1961, the term ‘Black Friday’ caught on in Philadelphia when police in the city used the term to describe the chaos that always happened the day after Thanksgiving — hordes of shoppers and tourists would flood the city, causing Philly’s police force to work long, unforgiving hours.
It wasn’t until 1985 that the term was in everyday use nationwide. In the late 1980s, retailers discovered a way to reinvent the day and turn it into something that reflected positively. The result of this was the ‘red to black’ concept of the holiday, which nodded to the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit.
The new Black Friday story stuck, and pretty soon, all of the darker roots were forgotten, buried into history.
The Darkness of Black Friday Today
Despite retailers’ best efforts, all is not sunshine these days, either. Everyone’s heard the tragic stories of shoppers being completely stampeded and even killed in the chaos of ‘can’t resist’ sales and top-notch deals.
Between 2006 and 2018, 44 Black Friday incidents in America left 11 people dead and 109 injured. Some websites are dedicated to telling the stories of tragedies that occur on the holiday, known as Black Friday Death Count.
Most Black Friday incidents occur inside large retail stores, where tensions run high as shoppers battle one another over limited supplies. About 20% of incidents happen at store entrances, and 11% occur outside of the store itself.
Even with all of the dangers, customers still flock to crowded department stores on the day, with upwards of $6 billion flowing in a single day.
The National Retail Federation estimates that more than 50% of the country’s adult population will participate in Black Friday. Perhaps it might be wise to do your holiday shopping online from the safety of your couch this year!