Holiday shoppers on Black Friday
(Image credit: Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images)

Ah, Black Friday: the post-Thanksgiving feast day of digestion that is perhaps best known for turning American shoppers into monsters, as they abandon their visiting families to camp outside big box retailers and compete for the best holiday deals. While we all know the basics of the retail-frenzied occasion, many may be surprised to learn the long history of how the biggest shopping day of the year came into its name:

  • Since the early 1900s, the post-Thanksgiving weekend has signaled the beginning of the holiday shopping rush, with New York City retailers fully embracing the marketing opportunity in the '20s by releasing Christmas ads and staging events, including a little parade you may have heard of — Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade — which debuted in 1924.
  • In 1939, the holiday had already become so important to merchants that President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving a week earlier to extend the buying period.
  • By the '50s, factory managers began referring to the day as "Black Friday" due to the rampant failure of employees to show up for work.
  • Philadelphia's police officers during the '60s used the term to refer to the swaths of jaywalking shoppers who flooded the city's downtown.
  • While the term continued to grow in popularity to connote the shopping frenzy, it wasn't until the 80's that the name took on a positive connotation, as shop managers pointed out that the holiday rush put "black ink," signaling profits, rather than loss-signaling red ink, on their revenue reports for the first time all year.

There you have it, but with Black Friday's continued encroaching on its Thanksgiving precursor and increasingly violent reputation, perhaps the name will once again revert to its negative origins.

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