The term “Black Friday” has for years been synonymous with mayhem at stores, and its origin story has roots in turbulence.
Black Friday began in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Tourists would descend on the city on the day between Thanksgiving and the annual Army-Navy football game held on Saturday. Historians say the Philadelphia police took to calling the day Black Friday because officers had to work long hours and deal with terrible traffic, bad weather and other crowd-related miseries.
Local retailers wanted to draw in shoppers that day. But they disliked the term because of the connotation of the word “black” in front of a day of the week, which historically has been used to mark unpleasant events. One was Black Tuesday, the day of the stock market crash of 1929, and another, Black Monday, the day in 1987 when the market lost more, on a percentage basis, than on any day in 1929.
Retailers tried to rebrand the holiday “Big Friday” but were unsuccessful. Businesses later reclaimed the name Black Friday, saying that the day was when stores’ books went from red ink to black.
Retailers have tried more recently to spread the shopping frenzy across multiple days after a succession of injuries and even deaths as shoppers surged into stores in a blind rush for the day’s bargains. And because the holiday shopping season has become so important to retailers’ bottom lines, there is now Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving that is being marketed as a day for online shopping, and Small Business Saturday, which encourages people to shop at local businesses.
This year, the season started long before Thanksgiving because of ongoing supply chain disruptions that rose out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Toys and electronics may not arrive in time for the holidays because of manufacturing and shipping delays. Many Americans have decided to start their holiday shopping ahead of Thanksgiving. The White House’s supply chain task force has been working with private companies to try to speed the flow of goods.
Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.