History of How Black Friday Got It's Name

History of How Black Friday Got It's Name

With the 2020 Presidential Election about to be officially called, the primary event captivating America right now will soon reach closure. Once it does, the next November “event” that will be top of mind is “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day of the year.

It occurs on the Friday after Thanksgiving each year, and commands more media coverage and national attention than the actual holiday that transpires the previous day. We’ve already been seeing Black Friday advertising, one example would be this Fry’s ad, for about a week. Once Halloween is over, it’s now Christmas shopping season/time to hype up Black Friday. 

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That’s how it works these days, which is unfortunate, because Thanksgiving is actually my favorite holiday. Or perhaps that’s a big reason why it’s my favorite holiday- it’s the underdog that flies under the radar. The city of Philadelphia “suffers because it’s smack dab in the middle of New York and Washington,” former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said in 2016.

Thanksgiving is like the Philadelphia of holidays, but now it’s also even engulfed by the day that immediately follows it. Turns out the term Black Friday has a massive Philly connection too! Philadelphia police used the term in the 1950s to refer to the day in between Thanksgiving and the Army-Navy football game on Saturday. The sandwiched day drew huge throngs of tourists and shoppers to the city, leading to crowd control problems, nightmarish traffic and well, general unruliness.

Kind of sounds like the videos we see every year when the stores open early and all the people rush in! 

independence hall

Philadelphia area merchants tried to change the name to Big Friday, but the new moniker never took hold. For a few decades now, Black Friday has been an institution, but the widely believed narrative regarding its etymology is incorrect! To be “in the black” on a financial ledger sheet means that you’re profitable.

Conversely, if you’re “in the red,” your costs are exceeding your income. Thus, it’s a common misnomer that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the moment that stores, driven by the extreme excess of sales, go “in the black.”

Not true, the origin of Black Friday as a phrase is all about two white collar criminals/financial fraudsters.


The Black Friday gold panic of September 24, 1869 was caused by two conspiratorial investors, Jay Gould and his partner James Fisk. They took advantage of a small time speculator they knew named Abel Corbin, who had married Virginia (Jennie) Grant, the younger sister of then President Ulysess Grant.

At that time, Grant, regarded to be an elite general but a lousy President, was selling Treasury gold at weekly intervals in order to pay off the national debt, stabilize the dollar, and boost the economy, which was still in tatters from the Civil War. Gould and Fisk used their connections to the Oval Office to drive up the price of gold, and a market crash soon followed.

Illustration of a graph where the figures suddenly fall through the floor

The stock market fell 20% in one day, international trading halted and agricultural futures took a beating. Meanwhile some estimates claim that Gould made off with about $12 million. 

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