Well before it was the name of a busy pre-Christmas shopping day, the term Black Friday was used to describe a number of tragic and unfortunate events the happened to take place notoriously on Fridays. Interestingly, the first recorded instance of Black Friday was in regard to a financial incident rather than a disaster or invasion.
Gold Panic – 1869
Called the Gould-Fisk Scandal and it took place during Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency during the Reconstruction era. A couple of speculators conspired to drive the price of gold upwards, causing a panic in the New York Gold Exchange as well as America’s financial sector. As the scandal was investigated, the president as well as many of his close advisors were implicated as being directly or indirectly involved with trying to manipulate the gold market.
Philadelphia – 1966
Philadelphia newspapers started referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving as Black Friday when police started noticing increased traffic and congestion problems with the increase in shoppers on the streets. That Friday also coincided with the surge of visitors attending the Army-Navy football game that Saturday. While retailers were happy for the extra business and holiday traffic, civil servants and police forces were stretched thin as the crowds flooded streets and sidewalks. Black Friday carried a negative connotation as it referred to the extra problems and incidents the local police had to deal with because of the extra crowds.
Retailers Nationwide – 1980s
Store owners traditionally followed an unwritten rule and did not release their holiday product line until after Thanksgiving which officially marked the start of the holiday shopping season. And as they built up the release of the post-Thanksgiving product, consumers responded by flocking to stores in an attempt to get their holiday shopping started early. The only thing that kept retailers from really capitalizing on this consumer trend was the perception of Black Friday as an unruly, negative event because of its historical significance.
So retailers hit up on a genius idea: tie Black Friday into the profits generated by increased sales. When accountants track the revenue and profits of a business, that business is said to be “in the red” when in debt and “in the black” when making a profit. Retailers started to spin the idea of Black Friday as the day when businesses go from the red to the black with the start of the holiday shopping season and increased profits. This repurposing of an otherwise ominous term made the day after Thanksgiving seem to consumers to be not only a day to get exclusive Black Friday deals but also to help the economy and support local businesses. While it doesn’t make much sense that a business could remain open with staying red three quarters of the year, the terminology and appearance of logic was enough to retake the term Black Friday and give it a positive connotation in the eyes of American consumers.