Today, when we think of Black Friday, we think of what is essentially the American version of Boxing Day: the day after Thanksgiving, in which Americans and Canadians alike flood stores and online retailers to find the best deals on the items they’ve been eyeing all year.
Black Friday brought in a cool $7.9 billion in revenue last year, so it’s clearly a profitable phenomenon; you’d be hard-pressed to find a retailer, be they a large-scale corporation like Amazon or your favourite mom-and-pop general store, who doesn’t take part in this annual November tradition. But the origins of Black Friday are kind of weird, and not what you’d expect.
The Origins of “The Black”
You might have heard of the stock market crash that instigated the Great Depression in the 1930s, but there was another crash earlier in American history: the infamous gold market crash which took place on September 24, 1869. That day was colloquially named “Black Friday,” an apt description for a sombre day in which many Americans fell into poverty.
You might be wondering how such a morbid event in history could have led to the invention of a massive shopping day in which consumerism is celebrated, and it’s a fair question.
Although the term was first used in the mid-1800s in response to the financial crisis, some other theories have developed that show a more linear line from the gold market crash to the sales event we all know and love today.
One legend states that shop owners began noticing their profits increasing the day after Thanksgiving. When Americans were presumably feeling more gracious and willing to share their resources. Since turn-of-the-century storeowners recorded their profits in black ink and losses in red. They began referring to their notable prosperity following Thanksgiving as “being in the black.”
The First Black Friday Sales Event
Although retailers were well aware of the post-Thanksgiving rush, it wasn’t an official statutory holiday. It was just sort of an open secret among storeowners who knew they’d be particularly successful at driving in business on the fourth Friday of November. The official designated Black Friday sale came later. It wasn’t until 1924 when Macy’s advertised their post. Thanksgiving sales, using their massive national platform—the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—to drum up curiosity and interest. People were quick to open their pocketbooks. And the trend steadily grew until culminating in the 1980s. With official Black Friday sales events becoming normalized.