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The history of Black Friday — the title comes from a stock market crash

The name Black Friday first came about in 1869, when 2 Wall Street financiers crashed the stock market

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Sign hangs in storefront of a clothing store in Colorado Mills Outlet Mall in Lakewood, Colo.

Sign hangs in storefront of a clothing store in Colorado Mills Outlet Mall Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Lakewood, Colo.

David Zalubowski, Associated Press

In the present day, Black Friday is defined by impressive sales and hordes of shoppers. But the origin of the term “Black Friday” has nothing to do with shopping holiday sales.

Black Friday was originally coined in 1869 after a major stock market crash. Investors Jay Gould and Jim Fisk planned a scheme to tank the stock market and make millions. On Sept. 24, 1869, the pair of investors hoarded as much gold as they could. It sent the stock market crashing by 20% and the value of gold sky rocketed. The pair initially made $60 million, per History.

According to USA Today, President Ulysses S. Grant tried to repair the damage done by Gould and Fisk by flooding millions of dollars worth of gold into the market. However, the result was that the value of gold decreased drastically. Gould and Fisk’s plan became a failure and Wall Street financiers lost millions — hence the name Black Friday.

What did Black Friday mean during the 1950s and 1960s?

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia was a big deal, and it was played the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The annual game brought crowds of tourists and shoppers to Philadelphia for the game.

Law enforcement officers had to work longer hours managing traffic and mobs of shoppers. The officers resurrected the term “Black Friday” to refer to the chaotic Friday before the Army-Navy football game, The New York Times reported.

How did Black Friday become about holiday sales?

It wasn’t until the 1980s that Black Friday became associated with the holiday shopping frenzy on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The connection between the title Black Friday and retailers has to do with ink. According to The New York Times, retailers used black ink to indicate profits and red ink to indicate loss. After Black Friday sales, retailers sold enough merchandise to transition from being in the red to being in the black — hence Black Friday.

How did Cyber Monday start?

Cyber Monday occurs the Monday following Thanksgiving. The cyber-sale got its start as online shopping became mainstream. Online retailers did not get the profit benefits of in-person stores on Black Friday. They wanted a piece of the action, so in 2005 the National Retail Federation officially coined the title Cyber Monday, per NBC News.

At this point, online shopping dominates retail shopping. Almost every retailer has an online presence. In 2020, shoppers spent a combined total of $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, making it the biggest online shopping day in history, NBC News reported.

How has Black Friday evolved?

Nowadays, it is hard to tell when Black Friday ends and Cyber Monday begins. Black Friday sales are no longer contained by a single day — they often last for weeks at a time and evolve into Cyber Monday. Target and Walmart’s Black Friday sales last for most of November. This means shoppers can spread out their holiday shopping over a span of weeks rather than just a day.

This change might just mean larger profits — in 2021, holiday sales rose by 14.1% and accumulated a record $886.7 billion in profits, according to the National Retail Federation. But the change also might be a result of aggressive shoppers at single-day Black Friday sales. In 2008, a Walmart employee was trampled to death at a Black Friday sale. The mob of shoppers shattered the front doors and stormed in, killing an employee and injuring four others, reports The New York Times. Either way, the extended sales have proven to benefit shoppers, retailers and their employees.

What will Black Friday 2022 look like?

With the dark cloud of inflation hanging over their heads, shoppers might be less enthusiastic about spending big at Black Friday sales this year. A recent survey by RetailMeNot found that roughly half of shoppers say they due to inflation, they will be buying less this year.

This does not mean shoppers won’t take advantage of the pre-holiday sales. Over half of shoppers said they would be attending Black Friday sales in person this year, reports RetailMeNot.