What Is the History of Black Friday?

The History of Black Friday Started Earlier Than You Think

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Shoppers listening to the Mabley Christmas Carolers in the arcade of the Mabley & Carew Department Store, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1950s. Photo by Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images

The history of Black Friday started much earlier than people think. The day after Thanksgiving was the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season since the late 19th century. President Lincoln designated the Thanksgiving holiday as the last Thursday in November.

The day after Thanksgiving wasn't called Black Friday then. That's because the name was associated with September 24, 1869. Two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, created a boom-and-bust in gold prices.

A stock market crash followed, as prices fell 20 percent. The disruption in gold prices sent commodity prices plummeting 50 percent. Corruption in Tammany Hall allowed Gould and Fisk to escape without punishment.

In 1905, Canadian department store Eaton's began the first Thanksgiving Day parade by bringing Santa on a wagon through the streets of downtown Toronto. In 1913, eight live reindeer pulled Santa's "sleigh." By 1916, seven floats representing nursery rhyme characters joined Santa in the parade. 

In 1924, the Eaton's parade inspired Macy's Department Store to launch its famous Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Macy's wanted to celebrate its success during the Roaring 20s. The parade boosted shopping for the following day. Retailers had a gentleman's agreement to wait until then before advertising holiday sales. 

In 1939, during the Great Depression, Thanksgiving happened to fall during the fifth week of November.

Retailers warned they would go bankrupt because the holiday shopping season was too short. They petitioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move the Thanksgiving holiday up to the fourth Thursday.

Unfortunately, by this time it was late October. Most people had already made their plans. Some were so upset that they called the holiday "Franksgiving" instead.

Only 32 states followed FDR's move. Others celebrated two holidays, which forced some companies to give their employees an extra day off.

In 1941, Congress ended the confusion. It passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November no matter what. 

In the 1950s, people began calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving, essentially giving themselves a four-day weekend. Since stores were open, as were most businesses, those playing hooky could also get a head start on their holiday shopping -- as long as the boss didn't see them. Rather than try to determine whose pay should be cut, and who was legitimately sick, many businesses started adding that day as another paid holiday. 

IN 1966, the Black Friday name become famous in print. That's when a story appeared in an ad in The American Philatelist, a stamp collectors' magazine.  The Philadelphia Police Department used the name to describe the traffic jams and crowding in the downtown stores. 

In 2014, an internet meme created a myth about Black Friday and slaves. It falsely claimed slave traders gave discounts at auctions on the day after Thanksgiving. 

Black Friday Sales History

Historically, shoppers did half their holiday shopping on Black Friday.

The holiday season consists of November and December, according to the National Retail Federation.

In 2008, holiday sales fell 4.6 percent from the prior year. That's the first time sales dropped since the NRF began tracking in 1992. Sales typically rose 3.4 percent each year.

In 2009, sales increased 0.3 percent. Shoppers spent $373 each on Black Friday. That's more than half of the $673 each spent during the 2009 holiday season.

Holiday sales rebounded 5.2 percent in 2010, once the recession was safely over. Black Friday weekend sales were $45 billion.

In 2011, many stores opened on Thanksgiving evening for the first time. Those sales were included in Black Friday sales. They were $12.3 billion, up 2.3 percent from 2010. Overall holiday sales rose 4.6 percent. 

In 2013, combined online and store sales for the entire Black Friday weekend were $57.4 million.

It was lower than the $60 million spent in 2012. Many shoppers took advantage of online sales that began in early November. Others waited for bigger discounts later in the shopping season. The NRF stopped giving sales estimates for Black Friday in 2013. Instead, it reported on sales for the holiday season.

Black Friday FAQ

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