How Black Friday Began: A Tale 140 Years In The Making

From a gold market crash in the 1860s to awful traffic in Pennsylvania 100 years later, the name of America’s annual shopping frenzy has a long history.

For more than a century, American retailers have ramped up marketing and discounts in the days after Thanksgiving, especially on Friday, which is now widely known as Black Friday.

For more than a century, American retailers have ramped up marketing and discounts in the days after Thanksgiving, especially on Friday, which is now widely known as Black Friday.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

But the term “Black Friday” for post-Thanksgiving Day sales is relatively new, and seems to have been concocted in Pennsylvania. Here’s how it evolved.

For years, “Black Friday” referred to the crash of the gold market on Sept. 24, 1869.

For years, "Black Friday" referred to the crash of the gold market on Sept. 24, 1869.

The New York Herald/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

The term was used for other Wall Street crashes in subsequent years. This clip is from the New York Herald in November 1871, describing lawsuits against speculators Jay Gould and Jim Fisk.

Michal Cizek/AFP / Getty Images

The crash was even dramatized and made into a “society play,” as mentioned in this 1872 issue of The Daily Picayune in New Orleans.

The crash was even dramatized and made into a "society play," as mentioned in this 1872 issue of The Daily Picayune in New Orleans.

The Daily Picayune/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

Which is basically the really old timey version of The Big Short.

Which is basically the really old timey version of The Big Short.

Jamie Mccarthy / Getty Images

“Black Friday” was also synonymous with any Friday the 13th. There were apparently two in 1923.

"Black Friday" was also synonymous with any Friday the 13th. There were apparently two in 1923.

The Springfield Daily Leader/newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

This is from The Springfield Daily Leader in Springfield, Missouri on Jan. 4, 1923.

Post-Thanksgiving Day shopping was always a ~thing~ though — it just didn’t have a name.

Post-Thanksgiving Day shopping was always a ~thing~ though — it just didn't have a name.

Andrew Burton / Getty Images

Here’s an 1894 ad from a newspaper in Lima, Ohio, offering $8.88 novelty dress patterns on sale the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Here's an 1894 ad from a newspaper in Lima, Ohio, offering $8.88 novelty dress patterns on sale the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The Lima News / Via newspapers.com

In 1923 a Pennsylvania store advertised its “Annual After Thanksgiving Sale” with “coats and dresses at radical reductions.”

In 1923 a Pennsylvania store advertised its "Annual After Thanksgiving Sale" with "coats and dresses at radical reductions."

The New Castle News/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

In March, 1970, with Thanksgiving still more than eight months away, a store held in Pennsylvania held a “Black Friday sale,” in reference to Friday, March 13.

In March, 1970, with Thanksgiving still more than eight months away, a store held in Pennsylvania held a "Black Friday sale," in reference to Friday, March 13.

The Daily Courier / Via newspapers.com

By 1973, Black Friday still wasn’t associated with Thanksgiving — at least not in Kingsport, Tennessee.

By 1973, Black Friday still wasn't associated with Thanksgiving — at least not in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Kingsport Times / Via newspapers.com

But hark! A 1975 article from a Pennsylvania newspaper noted cab drivers and bus drivers in big cities refer to the hectic day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday,” as it marked the start of Christmas shopping “and the wild rush for Christmas gifts.”

But hark! A 1975 article from a Pennsylvania newspaper noted cab drivers and bus drivers in big cities refer to the hectic day after Thanksgiving as "Black Friday," as it marked the start of Christmas shopping "and the wild rush for Christmas gifts."

The Morning Herald/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

As per The Morning Herald in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on Dec. 5, 1975.

The New York Times echoed that the same year, attributing it to Philadelphia police and bus drivers dealing with the “busiest shopping and traffic day of the year.” A municipal PR exec reportedly noted thenegative connotation as early as 1961.

The New York Times echoed that the same year, attributing it to Philadelphia police and bus drivers dealing with the "busiest shopping and traffic day of the year." A municipal PR exec reportedly noted the negative connotation as early as 1961.

The New York Times / Via query.nytimes.com

The general manager of a Pennsylvania mall suggested an alternative in 1977, telling another local newspaper: “Instead of ‘Black Friday,’ you could call it ‘green Friday’…Business is excellent.”

The general manager of a Pennsylvania mall suggested an alternative in 1977, telling another local newspaper: "Instead of 'Black Friday,' you could call it 'green Friday'...Business is excellent."

The Delaware County Daily Times/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

Not all kids fared as well, as per Primos, Pennsylvania’s Delaware County Daily Times.

But it wasn’t nationally known! In 1980, the Associated Press quoted a department store employee saying the busy day after Thanksgiving was “certainly not a Black Friday” — as a good thing!

The San Bernardino County Sun / Via newspapers.com

The San Bernardino County Sun / Vianewspapers.com

The story ran in The San Bernardino County Sun in California on Nov. 29, 1980.

In the 1980s, Pennsylvania newspapers regularly started calling the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” in stories, probably because of the traffic connection.

In the 1980s, Pennsylvania newspapers regularly started calling the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" in stories, probably because of the traffic connection.

The Gettysburg Times/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

This is from the Standard-Speaker in Hazelton, Pennsylvania in 1989. It still wasn’t exactly a good thing.

This is from the Standard-Speaker in Hazelton, Pennsylvania in 1989. It still wasn't exactly a good thing.

Standard-Speaker / Via newspapers.com

Even in this 1989 Associated Press story that mentions Black Friday, the reporter notes she’s from Philadelphia, where the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday “for the sea of heads and the ungodly congestion in the malls and parking lots.”

Even in this 1989 Associated Press story that mentions Black Friday, the reporter notes she's from Philadelphia, where the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday "for the sea of heads and the ungodly congestion in the malls and parking lots."

The Galveston Daily News/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

Then in 1995, the Standard-Speaker said “nobody really seems to know” how Black Friday got its name. The story quoted a longtime employee of the newspaper suggesting perhaps it’s because stores “finish in the black” that day.

Then in 1995, the Standard-Speaker said "nobody really seems to know" how Black Friday got its name. The story quoted a longtime employee of the newspaper suggesting perhaps it's because stores "finish in the black" that day.

The Standard Speaker/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

The “sensible suggestion” came from Andy Rusnock of Beaver Meadows, Pennsylvania, according to the newspaper. Good work, Beaver Meadows.

The "sensible suggestion" came from Andy Rusnock of Beaver Meadows, Pennsylvania, according to the newspaper. Good work, Beaver Meadows.

Google / Via google.com

In 1996, another Pennsylvania newspaper said more definitively that it’s “the one day guaranteed to put any retailer’s accounting books in the black.”

In 1996, another Pennsylvania newspaper said more definitively that it's "the one day guaranteed to put any retailer's accounting books in the black."

The Indiana Gazette/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

Via the Indiana Gazette of Indiana, Pennsylvania.

The New York Times solidified the idea that same year, saying Black Friday got its name “because retailers hope that strong businesses will result in black ink on their balance sheets.”

The New York Times solidified the idea that same year, saying Black Friday got its name "because retailers hope that strong businesses will result in black ink on their balance sheets."

The New York Times/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

This idea has been repeated frequently since then.

This idea has been repeated frequently since then.

T.j. Kirkpatrick / Getty Images

Here’s a 2006 story from the AP:

Here's a 2006 story from the AP:

The Hays Daily News/Newspapers.com / Via newspapers.com

And one from 2012 in the Wall Street Journal.

And one from 2012 in the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal / Via wsj.com

Most major retailers now start their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, though there are exceptions. Opening times have moved further into the holidaystarting with controversial midnight openings in 2011.

Most major retailers now start their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, though there are exceptions. Opening times have moved further into the holiday starting with controversial midnight openings in 2011.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Happy Black Friday!

Happy Black Friday!

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