It Has Its Roots in the Late 19th Century
Black Friday is a massive event in America today, but do you know how it got its start? It’s thought that Black Friday's roots began in the late 19th century, when store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common. Once Santa Claus arrived at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season would commence. (Back then, most stores followed the unwritten rule that holiday shopping didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving.) The tradition of holiday shopping beginning the day after Thanksgiving became so strong that in 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season didn’t begin sooner, retail sales would fall unacceptably low, so Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up by a week to add extra time to the holiday shopping season. (It did not go over well, and in 1941, Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.)
The Origins of the Name Aren't All That Rosy
The name Black Friday is often thought to be a reference to retailers “getting in the black” from all the revenue they earned. However, the first recorded use of the term actually dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s; the shopping day was right between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game, so the city was always incredibly busy. Police officers, cab drivers, and others who had to negotiate the city’s streets began referring to the day of retail bedlam as "Black Friday" in reference to how irritating it was for them. Despite the fact that most retailers remain profitable all year long and don’t need to use Black Friday to “get in the black,” beginning in the 1980s, retailers began to focus on that angle because it was a more positive reason for the name “Black Friday" than its Philadelphia origins.
It's Not as Profitable as You Might Think
Interestingly, Black Friday is often not the most profitable shopping day of the year – that honor usually goes to the days right before Christmas (especially the Saturday right before). However, it may be the busiest shopping day of the year in terms of customer traffic. Sadly, people have been injured and even killed on Black Friday. In response to these tragic incidents, OSHA created a special checklist for stores expecting large crowds; it includes using bullhorns, hiring police officers, and setting up barricades.