THE DAY THE COPPERS INVENTED BLACK FRIDAY.

When the term Black Friday was invented.

Hello everyone. Sit yourselves down.  I have a holiday treat for you.

This is the story of how Black Friday was born.

In 1951, business owners across the U.S. were faced with what to do about a problem that had been escalating over the years.  Their employees were all coming down with what the November 1951 issue of Factory Management & Maintenance magazine referred to as “Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis”.  Employees across the land were all mysteriously coming down with colds, sore toes, stomach flus and general malaise the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I mean it was WEIRD.  You see,  at that point in time the Friday after Thanksgiving  wasn’t a paid holiday.  These people wanted a 4 day weekend so they took it upon themselves to get one.

In the magazine article, the author mentions that the amount of people “falling ill” on the Friday after Thanksgiving was on par with the Bubonic Plague – otherwise known as the Black Death. He then goes on to use the term “Black Friday” to describe the annual day of communal sickness across the nation.

Factory owners and other businesses that year began adopted the practice of giving their employees that day off since they weren’t going to come in anyway.

It was quiet for another decade or so until the term Black Friday popped up again.  And this time it stuck.

Picture it.  The Friday after Thanksgiving, 1961, Philadelphia.  It was a cool 48 degrees and raining.   Many people had the day off, kids were out of school, and today was the day that Santa was making his very first appearance in department stores.  Those same stores were also officially kicking off their holiday shopping with displays and different items they wouldn’t normally carry.  Hoards of people from all over descend upon the Centre City on foot and by car to get  their Christmas shopping started.  They park their cars on curbs and stop in the middle of streets, no traffic is flowing, intersections are blocked. It’s mayhem.  All traffic cops in Philadelphia were forbidden from taking the day after Thanksgiving off because all hands were needed downtown.

By later in the day even MORE people started to worm their way into the Centre City, landing in Philadelphia to watch the annual Army-Navy football game.  The police marching band has to be called in with trombone players directing traffic and reporters scrambling to the scene.

Now this wasn’t a new thing.  This had been going on for a few years, so when reporters assigned to cover the story, the police already had a term for the enormous gridlock that paralyzed the downtown every Friday after Thanksgiving.  The cops called it Black Friday.

In the mid 1960’s (possibly 1966) Philadelphia reporters Joseph P. Barrett and Nathan Kleger wrote a story for the front page of the Philadelphia Bulletin about the terrible traffic conditions and they reused the term they heard the cops using, “Black Friday” in their story.  They wrote a similar story year after year and soon enough television stations started using it too.

The description  held true for what more and more cities across the country were going through.  It was an unpleasant name for an unpleasant experience.  Crowds, pushing, shoving, traffic jams and I’m sure more than one person giving another person the finger.  It was not the most wonderful time of the year. But this didn’t stop people from  heading downtown. In fact the more popular Black Friday became the more stores lured customers in with great deals.  Knowing that no one can say no to 50% off of anything the deals kept getting better and better and Black Friday kept getting worse and worse.

Since the late 1980’s people have thought that the term Black Friday referred to the fact that businesses could finally move from being in the red to being in the black during the month of November.  That rumour originated with the stores themselves, who were trying to put more of a positive spin on the festival of fracas.

There have been 10 Black Friday deaths and 105 injuries in the past decade or so.

Want a little advice from me?   Skip Black Friday shopping and head out to shop locally the next day, Saturday, which is shop local day.  Or, as it was known in Philadelphia in 1961 believe it or not … Black Saturday.

43 Comments

  1. brenda says:

    this is so refreshing … maybe I should call the cops … I got 200 emails today – everyone selling something OMG some were from the same people five to ten times wondering why I’d not responded … threatening to take me off the list for hurting their feelings … it started Monday and I started unsubscribing and they are still e-mailing me … I think I might need to write to monkeychimp or someone

  2. brenda says:

    so we’re basically talking to ourselves here … throw me a cranberry

  3. Lisa says:

    Aussies are still here 🙂 I never knew how the term started so thank you for that.
    We are starting to get the whole Black Friday here as well – however most stores make it a 3 day event. This way you can shop until you drop. Mind you, I’d rather shop at a small local like you. It does really seem quiet over there…..wow!

    • Thandi says:

      Yup, it’s caught on in South Africa too. This year it’s Black Friday week, according to some of the online retailers. I stocked up at the supermarket yesterday and am staying safely indoors until it’s all over.

    • Gina Rantanen says:

      In Portugal (and I suppose in the rest of Europe) it caught on as well and it’s Black Friday weekend!!!! Sell sell sell because sales here for retail have been awful due to the high temperatures and sunny weather so they need this. I will not partake in crowds myself .

      • Robert says:

        In México we start even early, the weekend closest November 20th (the day of our revolution) by gubernamental decree we have El buen fin or The good (week)end were basically every business is needed to offer some kind of discount or deal, banks included, to encourage shopping. So obviously the really big business start the deals since Monday, extend till the 20th if it falls on the next Monday or Tuesday, some do it a little longer and before you know it is already ciber-monday which some of the few e-stores that do deliver in here without the huge import fees also partake in for a few years now

  4. Nancy W says:

    Here’s your cranberry! I’m throwing in a dinner roll too.

    • brenda says:

      thanks – I got some vodka too from Lisa

      • Jackie says:

        ooooo. Sounds great. We had a great cocktail yesterday. Sparkling Cranberry juice & vodka with frozen cranberries thrown in as a garnish. If you freeze them they act like little ice cubes but don’t dilute your drink —- but then the drinks didn’t last long enough to get diluted. I still have some sparkling white grape juice & also some red grape juice – & vodka of course. May have to break it out again today. Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I have turkey broth making in the crock pot now. Only 1 turkey would fit – I made 2 -so I will have to make a 2nd batch.

  5. Lisa says:

    I’d be hiding too. Mind you – I also hide from our Boxing Day Sales – the Aussie version of Black Friday.

  6. kddomingue says:

    Tossing in homemade macaroni and cheese and pecan pralines!
    I did Black Friday one year. Sister-in-law said “Come with….it’ll be fun!” . Husband said “Go! Bonding opportunity! Have fun!” . My first clue that it was a bad idea should have been when she said she’d pick me up at two….2am….2am in the cold, dark, God isn’t up yet morning. But….bonding, right? So, I get home 12 hours later after having been hustled through every parking lot and store in town with my sister-in-law doing everything short of screaming “mush!” and cracking a whip over my head, having been shoved, pummeled, cursed at and damned near run over in more than one parking lot. I’m tired, hungry, empty handed with a ferocious headache, backache, sore feet and desperately in need of a gallon of coffee and the bathroom and the hubs? He greets me at the door with a sappy grin on his face and chirps (CHIRPS!) at me “See? I told you it would be fun!” . Yes, to answer the burning question that you’re dying to ask, he is still amongst the living. But it was a close call. I remember snarling at him “Next time YOU can go fricking BOND with that crazy woman! NEVER AGAIN! Do you HEAR ME!?!” as I repeatedly jabbed him in the chest with my finger to emphasize my…..snarliness? To give him credit where credit is due, he waited a few years before he even jokingly referred to the Great Black Friday Debacle.! Black Friday…..Bah! Humbug!

    • TucsonPatty says:

      This is why I will NEVER partake in this crazy tradition. I have deleted email after email deciding that I didn’t need ANYTHING badly that I would spend that much time ferreting out the “bargain”. I am in some sort of coma, but not turkey, as I’m a vegetarian. I ate two platefuls of lots of good stuff, today, that was absolutely delicious! Happy Digesting Day, everyone! ; )

      • Kddomingue says:

        Oh! Goodness! It was like being tossed in a river full of piranha in a feeding frenzy! I don’t like crowds to begin with but this…..this was just unreal! There’s little that I need that would prompt me to insert myself into that madness again. I have gone a couple of times since then but it was to one specific store for a specific thing. To Lowe’s for example for two Christmas trees, one for myself and one for my daughter. And one year to Joanns for large rolls of batting for myself and a Cricut machine for my daughter. My daughter and son-in-law went last night to buy appliances for their house and ended up paying about half of the normal cost. It’s not too bad if you’re not going to the mall, Target, Wal-Mart or department stores evidently. But there is nothing that I need badly enough this year to leave the cozy confines of my house for!

    • Karen says:

      LOL! omg, 2 a.m.???!! ~ karen!

  7. Robert says:

    Did you redesign the movil version? It looks somehow different in a good way.
    Love the word fracas BTW, that’s what I called the catering business I was planning as a school project back in 2013 when I literally first discovered you

    • Karen says:

      Hi Robert! I don’t think I changed anything on the mobile, but maybe I just don’t remember. I’m always tweaking things. 2013?? Wow! ~ karen

      • Robert says:

        Now it just scrolls down, it used to be a little wider at some parts so it slided to the right blocking some of the text if I didn’t scroll carefully.
        Also if a comment gets to 4 or 5 replies it starts to show vertical with a letter per line making it a pain in the A to read

  8. MaggieB says:

    I’m hiding three!! Still haven’t found my Christmas cards, decided I’m not going to stress about it, it’s time to sample Glühwein and Glögg as it’s Dark Grey Friday (storm coming in apparently) and temp jumped up to a balmy 9°C so in between sipping samples I’m going to replace draught thingy strippy stuff on some of my windows, get under my blankets by the nearest heat source and settle with a book. Cheers!
    Thanks for info Karen on how today got its name, love learning new stuff.

  9. Marna says:

    Wow! I never really thought of how that term came to be used.

  10. Debbie D says:

    I have homemade delicious turkey soup if anyone wants some.

    I have to take the boyfriend to the airport at dark thirty this morning so he can head up his annual weekly cruise that he does for his radio station. (No I won’t be going as I get seasick and am saving my time off from work) Yes, I will be dropping him off at the airport at 4 am! Will I go shopping after that? No Way! We decided years ago not to give Christmas gifts, nor birthday gifts, etc., only cards. BEST DECISION EVER! I still spend $ but it is for charity instead.

    Looking forward to watching sappy Christmas movies on TV. Crocheting my security blankets for the mentally ill kids I serve so they can be given out at their breakfast with Santa. Love being a single lady and getting to do anything I want this weekend (other than the airport trip). Weather is supposed to be great so I will be taking long walks and enjoying leftovers, fall colors, a bit of gardening and silence along with a nice cuppa!

    • Alena says:

      I would love some turkey soup if there’s any left, Deb!

      And I was wondering what “dark thirty” meant, LOL! This will be a new term I will start using immediately. Soon, I will be able to say I am getting up at dark thirty (that will mean 6:30 am) – at the moment, there is already a tiny amount of light at that hour but another week or so and it will be still dark.
      Today is shaping up like a nice day here as well, we expect 8 degrees and sunny weather, a bit unheard of at this time of the year. I will rot at work all day but I will live vicariously through you and think of doing gardening. (Fall colours are already gone – all trees are bare).

      Thanks for the story, Karen, I read it long it long time ago somewhere but the refresher was nice.

    • Karen says:

      I loveeeee buying presents, lol. It’s kindda my thing. But I totally get that people hate it for a variety of reasons. 🙂 ~karen!

  11. danni says:

    Yeeeaaaah no thanks, I just packed up some pie and came to work in a mostly empty office to goof off and avoid it all. I am a master avoider.

  12. Ev Wilcox says:

    Whew-glad it’s over. Feel bad that my reaction to what should be a great family day is so negative, but truth is truth. We had some good food, some not so good, some nice visiting and some not so nice. I had a lot of help from my son-so thankful for that! And, like the crazy woman I am, volunteered to have the big Christmas gathering here! It made the most sense for various reasons, but oh-what did I do?!!!!
    BTW, for our shared feast I will throw in pumpkin pie. So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  13. Elaine says:

    Thanks, Karen, for the interesting Black Friday article!

  14. Mary W says:

    I had no idea – thanks for this interesting story. I always get the Black Butt Friday disease where one wants nothing more than to sit on their backsides, possibly watching live videos of the madness in particularly large stores from people who go just to watch. My cooked upside down turkey was so good, I chose white meat instead of dark this year. JUICY! Everyone must try this at least once. Cook your brine turkey on it’s breast letting all the dark meat juices continually bathe the white meat in juice. SO juicy! Now back to the latest mayhem video!

  15. Laurie says:

    Huh! I always thought the term came from one year (in the 90’s, I think), when there were so many debit transactions trying to go through at once the whole system went down. We were told that story on a group bus trip to an outlet mall in Pennsylvania for Black Friday shopping.

    • Karen says:

      I think they were teasing you. 🙂 Or they randomly made the story up to subliminally encourage you to use your debit card a lot that day, lol. ~ karen!

  16. Barb says:

    Perfect timing! I sent it to my brother and niece who were heading out for a bit of shopping!

  17. SuzanneLH says:

    No way in h#ll.
    Love shopping, but not crowds. In a lovely food coma, plan on letting my feet recover, eating leftovers, and reading my book.

  18. Benjamin says:

    I find it just another reason to don my feather boa and Lucite heels and go scare the children. Rainbow Friday…. If Hillary had won we’d be having brunch right now instead of marching to resist Gropenfuhrer from destroying the world with his elitist fascism groupies. The world needs saving and the queens are coming. LOL. Empress Woo you looking fabulous honey !! March on.

  19. Patti H says:

    Working in retail sucks all the joy right out of Christmas. I only ventured out on Black Friday because I had to. No one got that day off. I left that craziness twenty years ago and never looked back.

    Thanks for the history lesson, Karen.

  20. Heather says:

    Great story! Thanks for sharing. I just love all the layers you have. : )

  21. Gaeyl says:

    I like to shop for friends throughout the year that way I can enjoy a proper holiday weekend . The idea of driving near the Mall of America for church today is enough to place me at the top of Santas naughty mouth list.

  22. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Nice story…love the old picture!

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