Why Is Black Friday Called Black Friday?

How Black Friday Got Its Name

How Black Friday Got Its Name
Crowds rush into a Walmart store as the doors open at 5am to scoop up good deals on heavily discounted merchandise on Black Friday November 25, 2005 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Black Friday is the name given to the shopping day after Thanksgiving. It was originally called Black Friday because so many people went out to shop that it caused traffic accidents and sometimes even violence. The Philadelphia Police Department coined the phrase to describe the mayhem surrounding the congestion of pedestrian and auto traffic in the downtown area.

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, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing." (Source: The Chicago Tribune, "Black Friday - Why and When?)

When Black Friday Became a Positive Name

Retailers did not appreciate the negative connotation associated with a black day of the week. They had a good point. For example, Black Monday was given to October 19, 1987. On that day, the Dow Jones Average fell 22%, the largest percentage drop on one day in stock market history. Here's more on the Dow Closing History.

Another dark day, Black Thursday, occurred on October 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 11% 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.

No wonder retailers wanted to make the name "Black Friday" mean something positive. And, to them, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a very profitable day. To compensate, they decided to follow the adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

They used the name to reflect their success. Accountants use black to signify profit when recording each day's book entries. Red is used to mean loss. Therefore, Black Friday means profitable Friday to retailing and to the economy.

Worst Black Friday Violence

Black Friday crowds hunting bargains still give the police headaches. In 2013, police shot a Chicago Kohl’s shoplifter as he fled in his car. He was dragging an officer who was halfway into the vehicle. 

The most violence seems to occur at Wal-Mart, leading to the Twitter hashtag each year #Walmart fights. In 2012, two people were shot outside of a Wal-Mart 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 Wal-Mart 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 am.

On Black Friday 2009, another California Wal-Mart, this time in Rancho Cucamonga, needed police protection from unruly crowds — again, in the early-morning hours in the consumer electronics department. The store was briefly closed a few hours after another store in nearby Upland was closed.

The worst Black Friday occurred in 2008 when a man was trampled to death. Despite being 6'5" and 270 pounds, temporary worker Jdimytai Damour died of asphyxiation when crowds stampeded into another Wal-Mart (this time in New York). 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. It seems the police have a right to call Black Friday by a negative name.

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