Why “Black Friday” Is a “Thing” and Other History Lessons From the Internet

I am about to debunk the greatest positioning strategy of all time. It’s making me pretty nervous just thinking about it.  I don’t know who the master minds are behind this, but I have a feeling they’ll be kind of angry that I am about to spill the beans.

I’m just going to say it. Chances are you probably already know it.

Black Friday is just some hyped up American holiday invented by the corporations!  A Hallmark Holiday, like Boss’s Day or National Hotdog Day.

When I think about it, it was probably someone at Macy’s or the National Retail Federation that came up with this great American tradition. In the early 1900s, stores offered discounts for holiday shoppers, which led to the start of the retail profit season. The hugely hyped up American standard activity with the moniker “Black Friday” alludes to the day retail earns enough money to bring their businesses out of the red and into the black, the color of profit. At least, that’s the story I got in my sophomore accounting course. It made sense, red denotes debit lines, black denotes credits, and at the end of the day you want your balance sheet to be black. According to this story, a police department coined the term because of stampeding and traffic jams.

I tried to track down the real story after I typed out this line “Not quite sure how A refers to B with that one, so I’ll stick to the story I know since it’s much more colorful.” “Maybe there is more,” I thought as I jumped to the Google machine. But my initial hunch that Black Friday is nothing more than successful PR positioning was correct. If you take the time to read the comments on the AdWeek article, which I do, since I’m such a fan of the blogosphere and crowd knowledge, you will see an informative post from Bonnie Taylor-Blake correctly articulating the origin of Black Friday.

“None other than Denny Griswold is responsible for the first sighting we have of "Black Friday" used with reference to the day after Thanksgiving.  In the 18 December 1961 issue of Public Relations News she mentions Philadelphia police officers,” – Bonnie Taylor-Blake.

As a journalism student, I don’t feel comfortable citing a comment thread, or Wikipedia, but I’m also a strong believer in oral history and storytelling, so just trust me on this one. I tried to track down a “credible” source on this Internet fact, and ended up with some pretty cool crowd sourced knowledge banks. Keep them around if you’re a nerd like me that likes to spread some Internet knowledge at Thanksgiving dinner! (Last year, I explained to my younger cousins how Stan Lee’s characters were Jewish based on a wiki I read then come April this comes out. Trust the Internet, folks.)

Origins of Black Friday

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