How “Black Friday” got its name—it’s not what you think!
Did you know that the term “Black Friday” was not always a catch-phrase to promote shopping super sales on the day after Thanksgiving? Though it’s taken on this meaning within the last few decades, it’s origin is much darker.
The earliest known invocation of "Black Friday" to refer to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving was made in a public relations newsletter from 1961 that is clear on the negative implications of the name and its origin in Philadelphia:
"For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country's most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday."
The attempt to rename Black Friday was unsuccessful, and its continued use is shown in a 1966 publication on the day's significance in Philadelphia:
JANUARY 1966 – "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to 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.
The term "Black Friday" began to get wider exposure around 1975, as shown by two newspaper articles from November 29, 1975, both datelined Philadelphia. The first reference is in an article entitled "Army vs. Navy: A Dimming Splendor", in The New York Times:
"Philadelphia police and bus drivers call it "Black Friday" – that day each year between Thanksgiving Day and the Army–Navy Game. It is the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year in the Bicentennial City as the Christmas list is checked off and the Eastern college football season nears conclusion."
The derivation is also clear in an Associated Press article entitled "Folks on Buying Spree Despite Down Economy", which ran in Pennsylvania's Titusville Herald on the same day:
Store aisles were jammed. Escalators were nonstop people. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season and despite the economy, folks here went on a buying spree... "That's why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today 'Black Friday,'" a sales manager at Gimbels said as she watched a traffic cop trying to control a crowd of jaywalkers. "They think in terms of headaches it gives them."