Ten things you didn't know about Black Friday

WATCH: Surprising facts about Black Friday

Related Stories

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in the biggest economy in the world.

Full from their Thanksgiving feasts, millions of US shoppers descend on stores across the country on the Friday after the holiday, hoping to save on their Christmas shopping.

But as ever more promotions proliferate - add Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday to the shopping calendar - the question remains: Just what is Black Friday anyway?

Here are 10 surprising facts about America's unofficial paean to all things commercial.

1. "Black Friday" used to refer to stock market crashes in the 1800s.

Although it is now known as the biggest shopping day in the US, the term "Black Friday" originally referred to very different events.

"Black for centuries has been used for various calamities," says linguist Benjamin Zimmer, executive editor of Vocabulary.com.

Black Friday chalkboard with gold prices A chalkboard shows the prices of gold on "Black Friday", which reached a high not surpassed for 100 years

In the US, the first time the term was used was on 24 September 1869, when two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, tried to corner the gold market on the New York Stock Exchange.

When the government stepped in to correct the distortion by flooding the market with gold, prices plummeted and many investors lost sizable fortunes.

Macy's float Macy's parades began in 1924 and featured store employees
2. "Santa Claus parades" were Black Friday's predecessor.

For many Americans, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has become part of the holiday ritual.

But the event actually was inspired from the US's neighbours in the north. Canadian department store Eaton's held the first "Santa Claus parade" on 2 December 1905. Once Santa appeared at the end of the parade, the signal was that the holiday season - and thus, holiday shopping, had begun. Of course, consumers were encouraged to buy their presents at Eaton's.

US department stores such as Macy's took inspiration from the parade, and started sponsoring similar efforts across the country. In 1924, New York saw the first Macy's parade featuring animals from Central Park Zoo and run by the store's employees.

3. The date of Thanksgiving was, indirectly, determined by holiday shoppers.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, in a custom started by US President Abraham Lincoln, the president would declare a "day of thanks giving" on the last Thursday in November. This could either fall on the fourth or fifth Thursday in the month.

But in 1939, a funny thing happened - the last Thursday happened to be the last day in November. Retailers, worried about the shortened holiday shopping season, petitioned then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare the holiday a week earlier - which he did.

For the next three years, Thanksgiving was known derisively as "Franksgiving" and celebrated on different days in different parts of the country.

Finally, at the end of 1941, a joint resolution from Congress cleared up the matter. From then on, Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November - guaranteeing an extra week of shopping before Christmas.

Western Union telegraph protesting Thanksgiving change Mr Roosevelt received a barrage of messages protesting his capitulation to the will of retailers
4. 'Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis'

According to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, Factory Management and Maintenance - a labour market newsletter - lays claim to the first use of the term as it relates to the holiday.

In 1951 the circular drew attention to the suspiciously high level of sickness that day.

"'Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis' is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects. At least that's the feeling of those who have to get production out, when Black Friday comes along. The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick - and can prove it," reads the circular.

5. Big Friday?
New York Times report from 1975 A New York Times report from 1975 locates the phrase "Black Friday" as a bit of Philadelphia slang

The city that first popularised the term was Philadelphia. Police officers, frustrated by the congestion caused by shoppers on the day, started referring to it derisively as "Black Friday".

Unsurprisingly, retailers weren't happy to be associated with traffic and smog.

So they tried to rebrand the day "Big Friday", according to a 1961 local Philadelphia paper.

Needless to say, the term didn't stick.

6. "Black Friday" didn't become a national term until the 1990s.

The phrase 'Black Friday' remained a Philadelphia quirk for a surprisingly long time.

"You see it spreading a little bit to Trenton, New Jersey, which is close by, but it doesn't really start getting mentioned outside of Philadelphia until the 1980s," says Mr Zimmer.

"It didn't become widespread until the mid-90s."

7. Some say Black Friday refers to "going into the black".

Retailers tried to put a positive spin on the "black" bit of the term by saying it was when retailers became profitable, or as the saying goes "went into the black". However, there is no evidence to back this claim up.

It is true that holiday sales make up the bulk of consumer spending for the year.

Last year, shoppers on Black Friday spent an estimated $59.1bn, according to the National Retail Federation. But how much of that is profit isn't clear - given how retailers vie with each other to offer bigger incentives and discounts.

8. Black Friday became the biggest shopping day of the year in 2001.

Although it's often touted as the biggest shopping day of the year, the day didn't earn the designation consistently until the 2000s.

That's because, for many years, the rule wasn't that Americans loved deals, it was that they loved procrastinating. So up until that point, it was the Saturday before Christmas that typically saw the most wallets being emptied.

Samira Hussain looks at how people are spending their cash on Black Friday

9. Black Friday has become an international affair.

Canadian retailers have long winced as their customers went south on Black Friday in search of better shopping deals. So now they've begun offering their own sales - despite the fact that Canadian Thanksgiving is a full month earlier.

In Mexico, there is El Buen Fin, which roughly translates as "the good weekend". It's pegged to the anniversary of Mexico's 1910 revolution, which sometimes falls on the same day American Thanksgiving. It lasts, as the name suggests, the entire weekend.

Beyond North America, as online shopping has grown, retailers like Amazon have looked to Cyber Monday, first heard of in 2005, to promote deals for shoppers across the globe. While in China, the recently launched 'Singles Day' prompted sales of two million bras in one hour, making a pile that would be three times higher than Mount Everest.

10. Black Friday is becoming extinct.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, broke the Black Friday tradition in 2011, when it opened its store on Thanksgiving evening. Ever since, retailers have been in a race to catch up and now, 33 million Americans said they planned to shop immediately after turkey.

But don't worry - this time, retailers have come up with a name themselves: "Grey Thursday".

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    DEBT Via Twitter Kevin Peachey Personal finance reporter, BBC News

    tweets: "The unlikely #debt capital of Britain - a sign of economic ruin or recovery? My feature"

     
  2.  
    HEADLINES
     
  3.  
    UNILEVER REPORT 07:59:
    Unilever headquarters

    Unilever has released its first quarter trading statement. The company's turnover decreased by 6.3% to 11.4bn euros. It puts this down to currency fluctuations. Underlying sales grew 3.6% with emerging markets up 6.6%.

     
  4.  
    HEINEKEN SALES 07:52:
    Heineken plant

    Heineken has reported a 1.5% increase in the volume of beer sold in the first quarter. As well as Heineken, the company owns the Sol, Tiger and Strongbow cider brands. Like-for-like sales in Western Europe were up 1.8% to 1.5bn euros.

     
  5.  
    ASTRAZENECA RESULTS 07:46:
    AstraZeneca

    Pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca reports results. It made £638m in pre-tax profit for the first quarter of 2014, down from £1.3bn in the same period last year. The UK company makes no mention of the rumoured takeover bid by US-based Pfizer.

     
  6.  
    CO-OP & LABOUR 07:34:

    The Co-op Bank and the Labour party are likely to split up - the BBC's business editor Kamal Ahmed understands. Labour will say this is for purely commercial reasons, he says. The move comes after a year of controversy at the bank - including the resignation of its chairman Paul Flowers who is now facing charges for drugs possession.

     
  7.  
    GENERAL ELECTRIC 07:28:
    V150 TGV train

    French engineering giant, Alstom has deflected a report that General Electric may bid for the firm. Bloomberg reports GE may pay more than $13bn for the company. The French firm makes TGV high speed trains, among other things. Alstom says it is not aware of any "potential public tender offer for the shares of the company".

     
  8.  
    EUROTUNNEL 07:20:
    MyFerryLink

    Eurotunnel, the operator of the channel tunnel, has reported an 8% rise in revenue in the first quarter to 260m euros (£214m). The company's ferry service, MyFerryLink, reported 64% jump in sales. UK competition authorities are currently looking at Eurotunnel's share of the cross-channel market to see if the company has too much power.

     
  9.  
    BANKERS' PAY 07:05: BBC Radio 4
    Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko

    "The golden age is over," says Phillip Wale, the boss of Panmure Gordon and a veteran of several huge financial firms, including Goldman Sachs. He says tighter regulation and a drop in margins in the banking business will put the days of immense pay packets behind us. Gordon Gekko would not approve.

     
  10.  
    BARCLAYS AGM 07:02: BBC Radio 4

    "It'll be a pretty lively meeting," adds Mr Braund. He recalls "the silver haired lady last year who looked along the row and very quietly said 'you are greedy bastards', and really made the point - clapping went all round the hall as a result".

     
  11.  
    BARCLAYS AGM 07:01: BBC Radio 4

    There is "no absolute long term proof" that talented staff leave if not paid huge salaries, says Harry Braund from the UK Shareholders Association, which represents smaller shareholders. His organisation recently wrote a letter to the Barclays' chairman - reminding him of his legal duty to shareholders. Mr Braund says the main issue is that staff bonuses are rising faster than shareholder payouts.

     
  12.  
    TABLET COMPUTERS Via Twitter Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

    tweets: "Are tablets over as iPad sales slip 16%? No, read this - and also note Tesco has sold 500,000 Hudls"

     
  13.  
    BARCLAYS AGM 06:42: Radio 5 live

    "The assets have shoes," says Sarah Wilson, founder of the Manifest shareholder information service, on Wake Up to Money. She is explaining how investment banks justify high levels of pay. She says Barclays has seen "a mass desertion" of staff in North America. She says that bankers feel that European authorities do not understand the nature of the financial services industry. The bank wants to raise the bonus pot by 10% despite a 30% fall in profits last year.

     
  14.  
    APPLE RESULTS 06:34: BBC Radio 4

    Apple "has around $150bn effectively lying around in cash," says Hargreaves Landsdown analyst Richard Hunter on Today. "That's bigger than the GDP of certain countries." He adds that shareholders are pressuring the US company to deploy some of that capital in some way.

     
  15.  
    APPLE RESULTS 06:32:
    Apple products

    Apple reported better-than-expected quarterly profits late on Wednesday. iPhones are still flying off the shelves, 43.7 million were sold during the quarter, up 17% year-on-year. However, iPod (remember them?) sales are down 51%, and even iPad sales are down by 16%.

     
  16.  
    MOTORING ON 06:23: BBC Radio 4

    Car production, which accounts for 15% of overall manufacturing output in the UK, is booming. Around 142,000 cars were made in March - 12% more than the same period last year. Fully three quarters of them are exported. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders tells Today "we've seen people come back into showrooms in Europe," he says, and that is driving UK production.

     
  17.  
    BANGLADESH TEXTILES 06:14: Radio 5 live

    It's a year since the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. The destruction left 1,130 dead. Alan Roberts, who helps run the Bangladesh Accord, a legally binding agreement formed in the aftermath of the disaster, tells Wake Up to Money a lot has changed since then. The Accord covers 166 brands and it has paid for the inspection of 300 factories. Of those, eight have been shut down for emergency improvements.

     
  18.  
    WIND FARMS 06:13:
    Royd Moor wind farm at twilight

    The Conservatives have announced that they will not subsidise any new onshore wind farms, if they win the next general election. They've also promised to give residents more power to block the construction of wind farms near their communities. Subsidies would continue for existing wind farms, and those with planning consent or under construction.

     
  19.  
    BARCLAYS AGM 06:07: Radio 5 live
    Sir John

    We can expect a significant number of Barclays shareholders to vote against the re-appointment of Sir John Sutherland, the chairman of the bank's remuneration committee. Sarah Wilson, founder of the Manifest shareholder information service, tells Wake Up to Money voting against individual board members is unusual, but the move reflects how unhappy some are about levels of pay. It would be a protest vote, as Sir John is due to replaced anyway.

     
  20.  
    06:00: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    Barclays shareholders get a chance to vote today on pay and bonuses at the bank. Many are thought to be unhappy with how much money is being diverted into remuneration. More on that later. You can contact us throughout the morning by tweeting @BBCBusiness or emailing bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk

     
  21.  
    06:00: Joe Miller Business Reporter

    Good morning. After much speculation over the declining fortunes of US tech companies, both Apple and Facebook posted better-than-expected results for the first three months of 2014. Stay with us as we bring you more analysis on that, and the rest of the business news.

     

Features

  • Frank Sidebottom on Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show on ITV in 1992To be Frank

    How a cult comic character inspired a major new film


  • Beckford's TowerFolly or fact?

    The unlikely debt capital of Britain


  • Observatory in Chile with sun in the backgroundStar struck

    Why tourists are flocking to Chile's observatories


  • Two people using sign language Signing out

    The decline of regional dialects for the deaf


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.