Black Friday: A History

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People in the United States have many traditions associated with the winter holiday season. Thanksgiving is a popular one, with family gatherings and turkey dinners that many families look forward to enjoying. Even before the feasting is finished, thoughts often turn to shopping and finding good bargains. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, and this is a day that has become well-known for shopping and finding deals.

Black Friday started in Philadelphia during the 1960s, when police officers were overwhelmed by the large crowds of people who came into the city to shop. Police officers couldn't possibly take the day off when so many cars were causing traffic jams in streets and parking lots. Plus, with so many shoppers filling sidewalks and stores, the police had a really hard time managing the crowds. Slowly, the practice of having huge sales and crowds spread from Philadelphia to the rest of the United States. By the late 1980s, retailers had turned Black Friday into a shopping tradition with big sales and longer store hours.

At first, many retail stores opened at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, and shoppers were eager to get in the doors to find all of the deals. Gradually, stores pushed back their opening times to midnight or even earlier, on Thanksgiving Day. These days, shoppers stand in line for hours, waiting to get into stores to find specific items advertised at low prices. Some people even pitch tents to sleep in while they wait in line. Many of these items sell out quickly, so shoppers arrive early to try to get them before they are gone. Stores also try to attract shoppers by offering "early-bird" discounts that are only available when the stores first open for the day.

As more retailers established e-commerce websites, Black Friday shopping online has become increasingly more popular. Instead of fighting the elements and the crowds in stores, many people prefer to shop online to get Black Friday deals. A more recent shopping tradition is called Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving. On this day, online stores offer special sales and discounts to people who choose to shop online.

A few key points about Black Friday:

  • Many people believe that the first Black Friday truly happened on Sept. 24, 1869, and it had nothing to do with holiday shopping. On this date, the stock market crashed.
  • The hottest gifts of the holiday season are usually in high demand on Black Friday
  • Electronics and toys are some of the most popular sales items on Black Friday
  • Many people plan their Black Friday shopping weeks in advance, knowing exactly which stores will be discounting the items they want

Further Reading

  • What Is Black Friday?: Some people think that "Black Friday" comes from an accounting term. Back when accountants kept a ledger for a business on paper, they would often write profits in black ink and losses in red ink.
  • All Hail Black Friday: Shopping on the day after Thanksgiving was a tradition even before Black Friday got its name. Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season, so people start to focus on Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving.
  • The Real Story Behind Black Friday (PDF): The name "Black Friday" likely originated in Philadelphia many years before the rest of the country started using it. Officials in Philadelphia called the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday because of the big crowds of people and the traffic jams that always happened.
  • What Is the Real History of Black Friday?: People in Philadelphia tried to change the name Black Friday to "Big Friday," but this name never caught on.
  • When Did Black Friday Start?: Retailers were afraid that the name "Black Friday" would seem bad at first, but eventually it became widely accepted.

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