Why Is Black Friday Called Black Friday?

How Black Friday Got Its Name

Image shows a shopping cart full of toys and gifts. Text reads:

Image by Chloe Giroux © The Balance 2019

Black Friday is the name given to the shopping day after Thanksgiving. It was originally called Black Friday because the volume of shoppers created traffic accidents and sometimes even violence. Police coined the phrase to describe the mayhem surrounding the congestion of pedestrian and auto traffic in downtown shopping areas.

Black Friday was a busy shopping day long before it got its name. In the 1950s, people began calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving to give themselves a four-day weekend. Since stores were open, those playing hooky got a head start on their holiday shopping. Rather than try to determine who was legitimately sick, businesses just added that day as another paid holiday. 

Philadelphia police used the terms Black Friday and Black Saturday to describe the traffic jams that occurred the two days after Thanksgiving. This was first reported in 1961 in Public Relations News. In a report to the American Dialect Society, Bonnie Taylor-Blake also notes that the article describes how merchants tried to change the image to one of black ink, representing profitability.

The name was first recorded in 1966 by Earl Apfelbaum, a dealer in rare stamps. In his ad, he said, "'Black Friday' is the name that the Philadelphia Police Department gave to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment for them. 'Black Friday' officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city. It usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing."

Black Friday Didn't Always Mean a Good Day for Business

Retailers did not appreciate the negative connotation associated with a black day of the week. They had a good point, since the media used it to describe stock market crashes. For example, Black Monday was the name journalists gave to Oct. 19, 1987. On that day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 23%. The Dow's closing history shows that it was the largest percentage drop on one day in stock market history.

Another dark day, Black Thursday, occurred on Oct. 24, 1929. It was the day that signaled the start of the Great Depression. It was followed the next week by Black Tuesday. On that day, the stock market lost 12% despite attempts by major investors to support stock prices. That destroyed any confidence investors had in the stock market, which in those days was perceived to be the economy. Many had invested their life savings and were entirely wiped out.

Retailers wanted to make the name "Black Friday" mean something positive.

The Friday after Thanksgiving was one of the most profitable days of the year. Accountants use black to signify profit when recording each day's book entries. They use red to indicate loss.

So, Black Friday means profitable Friday to retailing and to the economy. Retail and consumer spending drive almost 70% of U.S. gross domestic product. Retailers adopted the name, but this time to reflect their success. To encourage more people to shop, they offered deep discounts only available on that day.

Worst Black Friday Violence

Black Friday crowds still give the police headaches. According to data analysis by The Hustle, there have been 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries on Black Friday since 2006. Violence has become so bad The New York Daily News renamed it "Black-eye Friday."

The states with the most Black Friday violence are Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama. On the other hand, the safest holiday shopping is in Vermont, Oregon, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The worst Black Friday occurred in 2008 when a man was trampled to death at a New York Walmart. Despite being 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 270 pounds, temporary worker Jdimytai Damour died of asphyxiation when crowds stampeded into the store. At least 2,000 people broke down the doors, trapping Damour in a vestibule where he suffocated. Eleven other shoppers were also injured, including a pregnant woman. These incidents give police the right to call Black Friday by a negative name.

In 2019, a man was shot to death in a mall parking lot in Ottawa, Canada.

In 2018, three people were shot, one fatally, in an Alabama mall.

In 2017, five people were injured in Thanksgiving/Black Friday violence. Brawls forced an Alabama shopping mall to close.

In 2016, two people were fatally shot in Reno, Nevada, and in South New Jersey.

In 2013, police shot a Chicago Kohl’s shoplifter as he fled in his car. He was dragging an officer who was stuck halfway into the vehicle.

#WalmartFights

The most Black Friday violence seems to occur at Walmart. It was the site of 57.1% of Black Friday incidents within the last decade. One reason is that it is the largest U.S. retailer, so it has more locations. It is also well-known for having the best Black Friday deals. The next most violent locations, shopping malls, were the scene of 17.9% of the incidents. Trampling occurred at 30% of the incidents while 26.7% of the violence involved shootings.

Black Friday violence has become so bad that it's led to the Twitter hashtag #Walmartfights. 

In 2012, two people were shot outside of a Walmart in Tallahassee, Florida. They were fighting over a parking space.  

Walmart's consumer electronics department seems to be the most dangerous place. In 2011, a woman pepper-sprayed a crowd at a Walmart in Los Angeles. She was trying to get a Wii for 60% off. The year before, crowds at a Sacramento Walmart forced the store to evacuate when they started pushing and shoving to get deals on consumer electronics at 5:30 a.m.

On Black Friday 2009, another California Walmart, this time in Rancho Cucamonga, needed police protection from unruly crowds. Again, the incident happened in the store’s consumer electronics department during the early-morning hours. The store was briefly closed a few hours after another store in nearby Upland was closed.

Key Takeaways

  • Retailers want to make Black Friday a positive event. But shoppers, intent on getting good deals, have turned it into Black-Eye Friday. You must weigh the rewards of saving money with the risk of getting hurt.
  • Walmart seems to be the worst location for violence.
  • In recent years, the best Black Friday deals are not on Black Friday. Many retailers offer their best deals earlier.
  • With the popularity of online shopping, Cyber Monday has begun to offer great deals.
  • Many people also wait until Green Monday in mid-December to take advantage of last-minute bargains.

Article Sources

  1. Bonnie Taylor-Blake. "Black Friday (Day After Thanksgiving),1961," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  2. National Geographic. "Oct 19, 1987 CE: Black Monday," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  3. Goldman Sachs. "The New York Stock Market Crash of 1929 Preludes the Great Depression," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  4. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Personal Consumption Expenditures/Gross Domestic Product," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  5. The Hustle. "The Tragic Data Behind Black Friday Deaths," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  6. The New York Daily News. "The Worst Black Friday Brawls in History," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  7. Reviews.org. "These States Are at High Risk for Black Friday Violence," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  8. Forest Hills/Rego Park Times. "Queens Man Killed in Black Friday Stampede," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  9. CTV News, Ottawa. "Man, 27, Shot to Death in Parking Lot in South Keys," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  10. CNN. "Gunman Dead and 2 Wounded in Alabama Mall Shooting," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  11. CBS News, "Brawl, False Gunfire Reports Close Alabama Mall Early Ahead of Black Friday," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  12. ABC 13 Eyewitness News. "Shopper Opens Fire, Killing One, Over Parking Spot," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  13. New York Post. "Black Friday Kicks Off With Deadly Shooting at Mall," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  14. New York Post. "Black Friday Violence Erupts Across Country," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  15. ABC News. "Black Friday Violence: 2 Shot Outside Walmart," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  16. Impact 2020. "Black Friday Crush Forces Police to Clear Sacramento Wal-Mart," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.

  17. Los Angeles Times. "Black Friday: Police Also Called to Wal-Mart in Rancho Cucamonga," Accessed Dec. 9, 2019.