Why It’s Called Black Friday

November 26, 2010 at 2:00 am 5 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

The term “Black Friday”, originally referred to Friday, September 24 1869, when the value of gold plummeted. It happened because a couple of speculators allegedly drove the price up, telling investors it would increase in value because the government was going to buy it, but the federal government actually sold a significant amount of their gold, which flooded the market and caused the value to plummet. For many investors, it was their financial doomsday.

The contemporary meaning of “Black Friday” refers to the day after US Thanksgiving. This meaning comes from Philadelphia Police, cab and bus drivers. They called it black Friday because they are overwhelmed as huge numbers of people go shopping and cause havoc to their normal routines.

It’s often referred to as the busiest day of the year for retailers, but that’s not entirely true. It is the day when they have the highest number of people in their store, but it’s not normally the highest day of sales for the year, although it’s usually in the top ten.

Update: A couple of comments mentioned the idea that the “Black Friday” name refers to the time when retailers finally turn a profit for the year, moving from “red” ink into “black” on their income statement. Before researching this post, I thought that was the reason too. Wikipedia does mention this idea as an “alternative” explanation that emerged sometime after the term was coined by police, cabs and bus drivers in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Wikipedia does not provide any sources to indicate that this is a fact for retailers. Although there are many sources that mention this idea, I cannot find any hard data that indicates any retailer operates without profit until the last 6 weeks of the year. If anyone finds any data that shows this, I’d love to include it in this post — it would definitely have significance in the meaning of “Black Friday.”

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Photo: Richard Roberson (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia (Black Friday 1869, Black Friday Shopping)

Entry filed under: Demystified, History and Origins, Holidays and Traditions. Tags: , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mamagaea  |  November 26, 2010 at 4:10 am

    I thought it was called Black Friday because it’s the first day of the year the retailers hope to come out of the red and into the black?

  • 2. Mickey  |  November 26, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Thats what I thought too.

  • 3. lola  |  November 26, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I have nothing but empirical data, but having worked retail for many, many years, I can assure you that although “Black Friday” is certainly a boon to many retailers, most retail operations have at least a small profit margin [after expenses] for the first 11 months of the year. I think this meaning has been perpetrated by people who repeat it without considering the implications of a business depending on one single shopping day to carry them through the other 364.

  • […] more Wild Facts about Black Friday, check out […]

  • 5. cole  |  November 28, 2010 at 2:09 am

    MY HS econ teacher simply said the term black Friday referred to the high sales–not necessarily the first time a store would see the black ink but just a significant rise in it.


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