The History Behind Black Friday

Thanksgiving day parade black friday 1924

Although the popularisation of Black Friday in the UK has only really taken place within the last decade, the commercial shopping event actually has quite a bit of history behind it. From a financial crash to the accounting practices of retailers, today the term has been given a positive spin to encourage customers to hunt for a good deal, but it has not always been so.

The first recorded reference to an event called ‘Black Friday’ was actually not in relation to shopping but to the financial crash of the US gold market in 1869. Whilst most of us are familiar with the stock market crash of 1929, the crisis in 1869 was caused by two notorious financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk. These financiers had attempted to buy as much gold as they possibly could in order to skyrocket its price and subsequently sell their reserves for an overwhelming profit.

Sadly for the financiers, the plot was uncovered and then-president Ulysses S. Grant ordered the release of $4 million worth of government gold, effectively crushing the monopoly of Gould and Fisk. Prices in the stock market plummeted as panic ensued, although thanks to the quick action of Grant and his administration a national depression was avoided. It is quite astonishing to learn that both financiers succeeded in avoiding prosecution and to consider how their names have been passed down through history along with this story, still discussed today.

This story however is not the only one circulating about the origins of the phrase. A more commonly cited story is the annual tradition of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, starting in the early years of the twentieth century. Shoppers would visit retailers looking for lucrative deals and spend a considerable amount of money on newly discounted products. It is thought that after trading under losses and being ‘in the red’ for the majority of the year, retailers would bring themselves back into ‘the black’ by selling so many products on the day after Thanksgiving to bargain-hungry shoppers. Although the truth behind this origin story is doubted, retailers indeed used the colours red and black when completing their accounting for the year, with red indicating losses and black in profit.

In addition to this theory about retailers being in ‘the black’, it is widely believed that the phrase came about from the language used by police officials when managing the hoards of shoppers on the day after the national holiday. In the 1950s, it is thought police in Philadelphia used the phrase Black Friday to describe the chaos and disorder that would ensue in the city.

Since 1952, the day after Thanksgiving in the US has marked the start of the Christmas shopping period. In the late 2000s, it was an accepted norm that retailers would open in the very early hours of the morning to debut their sales, with queues extending far beyond the door. It was not until 2010 that Black Friday began here in the UK, with several American retailers introducing the concept to their other audience. Black Friday has become an increasingly online orientated shopping event in the past few years, no doubt intensified with the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020. 

We hope this brief look at the history of Black Friday has shown how the event has evolved over the decades. We certainly think it has grown into an event where shoppers make the most of an opportunity to purchase gifts for loved ones whilst saving a few pennies or treating themselves to something they have had their eye on over the year. We have put all our offers into our Black Friday Collection so you can browse with ease from your home! 

Black Friday Collection

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