Black Friday and Its Philadelphia Roots

Have you ever wondered why we call Black Friday black?

The “Friday” part requires no decoding, of course, given that we always celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday. But why “black”?

One popular theory is that the Friday after Thanksgiving is so busy that retailers begin turning a profit and are therefore “in the black.”

But historians say that this explanation for the term’s origin is wrong.

calendar, black friday

Philly’s Connection to Black Friday

According to history.com, the term “Black Friday” came into regular use in the 1950s. A college football rivalry has brought Army and Navy together every year, with a few exceptions, since 1899. The annual game has taken place most often in Philadelphia, a geographic midway point between the two campuses (West Point, New York, and Annapolis, Maryland).

It was Philadelphia police, starting in the 1950s, who first referred to the day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday.”

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, so many tourists would drive into the city for the Saturday game that local police had to help with crowd control. Law enforcement officials dreaded the day, but not just because they didn’t get the day off. With all of the holiday shoppers filling up the stores, shoplifters saw an opportunity to steal merchandise. This gave police even more headaches.

The result? Local police began referring to the day as “Black Friday.”

But this wasn’t the first documented use of the term. “Black Friday” was the name given to the Wall Street crash of September 1869, which occurred—surprise!—on a Friday. Two financiers devised a scheme to buy up as much gold as they could, sending the price through the roof. When news broke of the conspiracy, the market took a nosedive and investors lost beaucoup bucks.

Of course, this was essentially a one-off and therefore people didn’t use the term to refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving until almost a century later.

Learn more about Black Friday at history.com. If you like word origins, check out our recent infographic on English words from other languages.