The Fascinating History of Black Friday

Publication date: November 23, 2023

Reading time: 4 minutes

As Etsy sellers and shoppers alike prepare for a weekend of special deals and promotions for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, have you ever stopped to wonder how this retail tradition began? This post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy has a rich and fascinating history that goes beyond the enticing deals seen today. While we wait for tomorrow’s sales events, let’s delve into the origins and evolution of Black Friday.

The Birth of Black Friday

The earliest known use of “Black Friday” was by a magazine in 1951 and 1952, who used the term to describe how workers called in sick on the day after Thanksgiving in order to have a long four-day weekend. However, the phrase never caught on, and they did not use it again in future years.

Instead, the birth of the term “Black Friday” is credited to its use in the 1960’s by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s police officers to describe the streets on the day after Thanksgiving, which was viewed as the start of the holiday shopping season. The police used the term “Black Friday” to refer to the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic and sometimes complete chaos on that day.

Over the years, retailers and the media adopted the term, but its connotations evolved. By the 1970s, “Black Friday” was associated with retailers transitioning from being in the red (incurring losses) to being in the black (turning a profit) due to the surge in holiday sales. This change in association contributed to the positive aspect of Black Friday as a shopping event.

The Mall Culture and Early Black Friday Sales

The mall culture in the United States played a significant role in shaping Black Friday. In the mid-20th century, suburban malls flourished, and retailers aimed to lure shoppers to their stores with enticing promotions. The idea of opening early and offering doorbuster deals on the day after Thanksgiving became increasingly popular.

One of the pioneers of the early Black Friday sales was Macy’s, with its Thanksgiving Day Parade drawing crowds to its New York City store. Other retailers soon followed suit, and Black Friday steadily became a part of American holiday traditions.

The Evolution of Black Friday

The 21st century saw a dramatic transformation of Black Friday. What was once a single-day event, expanded into a week-long shopping extravaganza, with many stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself. The emergence of e-commerce and online shopping further expanded Black Friday, giving rise to Cyber Monday—a day dedicated to online discounts.

The infamous shopping frenzy on Black Friday, characterized by long lines, stampedes, and sometimes even altercations, became a common sight. In response to safety concerns, some retailers began offering pre-Black Friday deals online, encouraging shoppers to stay home and shop from the comfort of their computers.

Global Expansion

While Black Friday originated in the United States, its concept has transcended borders. Countries around the world have adopted the tradition, albeit with variations. In the United Kingdom, for example, it’s often associated with “Black Friday Week” rather than a single day. In some countries, it’s primarily an online shopping event.

The Black Friday of Today

Today, Black Friday remains a massive shopping event that extends far beyond its original concept. Retailers meticulously plan their promotions, offering steep discounts on a wide range of products from electronics and clothing to appliances and toys. Shoppers eagerly await this day—both online and in physical stores—to snag the best deals of the year.

This Black Friday

The history of Black Friday is a testament to the evolution of consumer culture and holiday shopping traditions. What began as a term used by police officers in Philadelphia to describe post-Thanksgiving traffic evolved into a global shopping phenomenon. While the frenzy of Black Friday shopping may have its drawbacks, the day continues to be a significant driver of sales and a cherished tradition for many.

As we embrace Black Friday’s evolution, it’s essential to remember the origins of the term and appreciate the transformation it has undergone. Whether you’re a seasoned Black Friday shopper or prefer to avoid the crowds by shopping online at sites such as Etsy, the history of this shopping holiday is a testament to the power of consumer culture and the enduring appeal of a good deal. 

Now, time to shop!