By: Ch'ade Dellote-Bennett, Junior
Have you ever been ripped from your sleep at the brink of dawn on the Friday after Thanksgiving to indulge in some super sales shopping? Have you ever had to fight another person for a markdown item that you just couldn’t live without? Have you ever stood in a long line for hours, so that you could finally buy something that you wanted all year? Have you ever hidden something in store because you can’t handle the thought of someone else buying it?
All these frenzied behaviors are heightened on Black Friday, now a tradition in the United States the day after Thanksgiving where stores have SUPER sales and shopping deals. But did it begin like this? Was this shopping holiday always a hectic day when people fought in and out of stores, or “shopped till they dropped”?
Financially, the word Black has a negative connotation. However, for shopaholics and eager Christmas shoppers, it’s an exciting and chaotic time to spend money and get good deals on expensive items.
Originally, the term Black Friday was used for a stock market crash that took place on September 24, 1869. According to the PBS online series the American Experience, the stock market crash was caused by investors Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, who attempted to cheat Wall Street investors. Ulysses S. Grant, the president at the time, tried to improve the economy by reducing the supply of greenbacks, or paper dollars. He did this by using gold to buy dollars from citizens at a discount and replacing them with currency backed by gold. This policy, if carried out, would ruin the plans of Gould and Fisk, who planned to buy up as much gold as they could, and watch the value rise. When the price of gold got high enough to gain them profit, they would sell. But if Grant decided to put more gold on the market by trading it for greenbacks, the price would stay too low.
The information continues that a week before the stock market catastrophe, Gould and Fisk had started to buy as much gold as they could. Just as they hoped, the price went higher. At its highest point on September 24, the price of an ounce of gold reached more than 30 dollars above what it was when Grant took office. But when the government gold hit the market, so did panic. Soon enough, the price of gold plummeted, and investors were in a rush to sell their stocks. Many investors had obtained loans to buy their gold. With no money to repay the loans, they were ruined. People on Wall Street from CEOs to farmers were bankrupt. This wouldn’t be the first time that the word ‘black’ would have a negative connotation in the world of finance; in fact, there was a Black Tuesday on October 29th, 1929; and a Black Monday on October 19th, 1987.
This financial crisis still doesn’t explain as to why a shopping day is coined as a Black Friday, even when, historically, it has such a negative connotation. There are many myths that have circulated attempting to explain the origins of the name. Sarah Pruitt, a writer and editor from the widely known History.com in an article titled “What's the real History of Black Friday,” mentions a couple of myths and the true origin.
As the most famous myth explains, stores operate the entire year in a loss, or “in the red,” and on the day after Thanksgiving because of the sales and amount of purchasing, the store earns a profit and go “into the black” because shoppers spend a lot of money of discounted items. Although, it is true that retail companies used to record losses in “red” and profits in “black” when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the most known and accepted because retailers favor it; however, its incorrect.
A more recent myth is mentioned in Pruitt's article; it claims that during the 1800s Southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. However, this myth has no basis in fact, has caused some boycotting, and is also incorrect.
So, Pruitt further explains that the origin of the shopping holiday’s name was not created by retailers or shoppers, but it was coined by the frustrated Philadelphia police that were not happy about having to tame the post-Thanksgiving holiday chaos. In the 1950’s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term when they had to deal with crowds of suburban shoppers and travelers who would flood the city because of the Army Navy football game that was held annually on that Saturday. They also had to deal with shoplifters that day because of reduced pricing. The police officers weren’t able to take the day after Thanksgiving off, nor the following Saturday. In fact, they had to work extra-long shifts for those two days. In an attempt to dissuade the crowds from coming into the city, they used the term Black Friday negatively.
The Black Friday propaganda started by Philadelphia officers didn't stick, and retailers were able to turn the term into something that is more positive. This has allowed for a previous one-day sale frenzy to turn into a whole four-day day sale frenzy; Black Friday, Small Business Saturday/Sunday, and Cyber Monday. It's always interesting to find out the history behind something, and see historically it does a complete 180 and changes from what it originally was. This Black Friday hopefully you won't experience a financial crisis like most of Wall Street in 1969. Happy Holiday and Safe Shopping!
My name is Ch'ade Delotte-Bennett. I enjoy spending money and taking naps.