Black Friday was not always the start of holiday rush

HOUGHTON — Believe it or not, Black Friday was not originally applied to the first official day of the holiday shopping rush. Rather, it was applied to the U.S. gold market crash of Sept. 24, 1869. What is easier to believe is that the financial crisis was the result a financier, Jay Gould and a railroad magnate named Jim Fisk.

According to history.com, Gould and Fisk worked together in an attempt to purchase as much of the nation’s gold as they could and drive the price up. According to the plan, they would then dump the gold back into the market at huge profits. On that Friday in Sept., the conspiracy unraveled; the stock market went into a free-fall, bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the adjective black has been applied to days upon with calamities occurred, or has been applied to calamitous events, such the period of the Black Death of Europe and Asia in the 14th century.

Black Death, also referred to as “the plague,” refers to an epidemic of bubonic plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, states livescience.com. In his book, The Black Death, 1346-1353: The Complete History, Ole Jørgen Benedictow estimates that 50-60 percent of the population of Europe died during the Black Death, an even higher proportion than the often-cited “one-third” of Europeans lost to the disease. The name “Black Death,” Benedictow suggests, is actually a “misunderstanding, a mistranslation of the Latin expression ‘atra mors,'” meaning at the same time “terrible” and “black.” There is no discernible correlation between the grisly name and the symptoms experienced by victims.

In the 20th century, years before it started appearing in advertisements, the term Black Friday was applied to the day after Thanksgiving by Philadelphia police officers.

According to Adam Hayes’ essay, “Black Friday,” on the website investopedia, in the 1950s, crowds of shoppers and visitors flooded the the day after Thanksgiving. Not only did Philadelphia stores tout major sales and the unveiling of holiday decorations on this special day, but the city also hosted the Army-Navy football game on Saturday of the same weekend.

“As a result, traffic cops were required to work 12-hour shifts to deal with the throngs of drivers and pedestrians,” states investopedia, “and they were not allowed to take the day off. Over time, the annoyed officers started to refer to this dreaded workday as Black Friday.”

In 1950s Philadelphia, Thanksgiving weekend was a mob scene, states Brian Martucci on moneycrashers.com.

“The Army and Navy college football teams celebrated their fierce rivalry each year with a neutral-ground clash in Philly on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the article, The Real Reason Black Friday is Black, states. The day before, thousands of people from surrounding communities – as well as Army or Navy devotees from farther afield – flooded the city in anticipation of the big game. They took the opportunity to stock up on clothes, home goods, and other giftable items at central Philly’s many retail shops and department stores.

In other words, Martucci wrote, Black Friday was not a great day to be a public servant in mid-20th-century Philadelphia. By the 1960s, locals had taken to calling the chaotic day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday.”

“Amid the intense racial and social tensions of the time, this wasn’t the most flattering descriptor,” Martucci stated. “Local politicians and business leaders even sought to rebrand the day Big Friday, a happier construction. But it didn’t stick; Black Friday did. As retailers grew, merged, and sprouted roots in the suburbs, the term spread to other cities and eventually entered the national lexicon.”

The term quickly gained popularity and spread to store salespeople who used Black Friday to describe the long lines and general chaos they had to deal with on that day, Hayes wrote. It remained Philadelphia’s little inside joke for a few decades, although it spread to a few nearby cities, such as Trenton, New Jersey. Finally, in the mid-1990s, “Black Friday” swept the nation and started to appear in print and TV ad campaigns across the United States.

Eventually, the day was embraced by department stores as a day for huge, “blow-out sales” that was designed to spur increased consumer spending in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Like every other cultural day or event, however, attempts have been made to politicize Black Friday by putting an ugly twist to the tradition, relying on false information to make the day something racist.

In recent years, writes history.com, another myth has surfaced, claiming that back in the 1800s Southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. Though this version of Black Friday’s roots has understandably led some to call for a boycott of the retail holiday, it has no basis in fact.

Since days of the Philadelphia police being unmercifully overworked protecting the City of Brotherly Love, the one-day sales bonanza has expanded into a four-day event, and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday, history.com states. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on that Friday, and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal.


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