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Gold panic and football in Philly: the unexpected origins of Black Friday

published on 4 min read
A woman shopping in the city

Black Friday wasn’t always about finding seasonal bargains

Black Friday, the shopping event of the year that marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, has become a cultural phenomenon in the United States and beyond. Shoppers eagerly await this day in November, hoping to snag incredible deals and discounts. But do you know the intriguing history behind this day of retail madness? Let’s jump into the fascinating history of Black Friday and discover how it evolved from its humble beginnings to the shopping extravaganza we know today.

The first Black Friday was all about gold

One of the earliest and most significant uses of the term “Black Friday” refers to a conspiracy in 1869. Two investors befriended the United States President Ulysses S. Grant and convinced him to halt the sale of the treasury’s gold, thereby driving up the value of their own gold. When Grant caught wind of their scheme, he ordered the release of $4 million dollars’ worth of the precious metal. Its value crashed, leading to the Black Friday gold panic. A funny story to think about if you’re buying anyone jewelry for Christmas this year.

Philadelphia's Black Friday

The story begins in Philadelphia in the 1960s, where police officers used the term “Black Friday” to describe the chaos and congestion that happened the day after Thanksgiving. Large crowds of suburban shoppers and tourists would flood into the city for the Army-Navy football game, held annually on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. The influx of people caused traffic jams, shoplifting, and a general headache for law enforcement.

In the early years, retailers disliked the negative connotations associated with Black Friday, but it eventually took on a different meaning.

Evolution into a Shopping Extravaganza

Black Friday's transformation into a shopping extravaganza can be attributed to retailers’ creative marketing strategies. They recognized an opportunity to turn the day into a profitable one and began offering early morning sales and discounts to attract shoppers. There is also a myth that links the practice of recording profits in black ink – as opposed to losses in red ink – to the naming of Black Friday. By the 1980s, retailers had successfully rebranded Black Friday as a day of incredible deals and massive discounts.

The role of catalogs and advertisements played a big part in Black Friday’s evolution. Retailers started promoting their Black Friday deals well in advance, creating excitement and anticipation among consumers. The practice of releasing advertisements and circulars detailing the day's sales became a tradition, with shoppers eagerly studying them to plan their shopping routes.

A man shopping online

The Digital Age and Cyber Monday

The 21st century brought about a significant shift in Black Friday's landscape with the advent of online shopping. Retailers started offering online Black Friday deals, and shoppers began to enjoy the convenience of shopping from home. This phenomenon also gave rise to “Cyber Monday,” the Monday following Black Friday, when online retailers offered special deals to capture the attention of digital shoppers.

Black Friday beyond the United States

While Black Friday originated in the United States, it has now spread to various parts of the world. Many countries, including Canada, the UK, Australia, and parts of Europe, have embraced this shopping tradition, even though they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. In these regions, Black Friday is often seen as an opportunity to kick-start the holiday shopping season.

Now, back to shopping!

A gold panic; a busy day in Philadelphia; and now, a shopping phenomenon. It’s a day when shoppers flock to stores and websites in search of the best deals and discounts to kick off their holiday shopping. After all, with so many gifts to buy, it just makes sense to look out for savings. And, now you have a few stories to tell around the Christmas table. Happy shopping!

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackFriday(1869)

https://www.history.com/news/black-friday-thanksgiving-origins-history

https://www.marketingdive.com/news/black-friday-a-history-of-the-massive-marketing-event/409844/

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