- Getty/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
- The origin of the term “Black Friday” is murky.
- The most popular story says that the name came from the fact that the day’s sales are so great, it can push retailers “into the black.” But the earliest reference to that is 1981.
- But a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter claims he helped popularize the term.
Though most shoppers likely don’t stop to think about why we call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday,” all the same, many have wondered.
The most popular explanation is that the day’s sales are so high, it can singlehandedly push a retailer from being “in the red,” or losing money, into “the black,” or solvency.
That reasoning first appeared in 1981, according to Snopes, but that’s apparently years after the Philadelphia police had already coined the term “Black Friday.” According to a 1994 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that was written by one of the reporters who claims to have popularized the term, “Black Friday” was actually coined in the 1960s.
Black Friday has long been considered the start of the holiday shopping season, and since Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, many schools and some businesses would be closed the day after.
Stores, however, were not closed, causing a spike in traffic and crowds in Philadelphia’s Center City. Police officers in the city started calling the day Black Friday, as they had to work 12-hour shifts to mitigate the madness. From there, the media got a hold of it, and the name was popularized.
The nickname caught on even after PR firms hired by department stores tried to change the name to “Big Friday” in the 1960s. It didn’t work, and eventually, Black Friday spread across the US, morphing into the monument to holiday shopping we know today.