A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

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Entry from September 24, 2017
Black Friday (Big Friday)

"Black Friday” is the name of the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving, but there were other Black Fridays. The financial term “Black Friday” was popularized in the United States on September 24, 1869, when the stock market crashed.

The first “Black Friday” referring to the day after Thanksgiving was cited in print in November 1951 and involved the worker disease of “Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis.” Employees liked to take the day off to have a four-day weekend off from work.

“Big Friday” has been cited in Pennsylvania since at least 1957. “It far exceeded the Big Friday the day after Thanksgiving when stores were open from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” the Sunday Call-Chronicle (Allentown, PA) reported on December 15, 1957. “Biggest Big Friday,” the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer wrote on November 29, 1958, stating, “The name is given to the day after Thanksgiving, when Christmas shopping traditionally begins on a major scale.”

Women’s Wear Daily (New York, NY), on November 28, 1960, wrote about the Thanksgiving weekend sales in Philadelphia:

“All sources were bitter about newspapers and, particularly, repeated radio news bulletins reiterating Mayor Dilworth’s plea for people to leave their cars at home and take public transportation, and reports from police officials forecasting record traffic jams, both vehicular and pedestrian, for ‘black Friday.’”

“Black Friday” would be used by police in Rochester, New York, in 1961. The Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer switched from “Big Friday” to “Black Friday” later in the 1960s, and the “Black Friday” term became popular in other areas of the United States in the 1980s. 

The article “This Friday Was Black with Traffic” by former Philadelphia (PA) Evening Bulletin reporter Joseph Barrett in the Philadelphia (PA) Daily News on November 25, 1994, explained the Evening Bulletin‘s role in popularizing “Black Friday” and resisting the name change to “Big Friday.”

It’s sometimes said that “Black Friday” represents, for retailers, when ledgers are “in the black” in profit (as opposed to being “in the red” in loss). These accounting color terms were popularized by printed ledger books by 1920. “About the only thing black about it, he (Reeves Wetherill, the public relations director at John Wanamaker—ed.) suggested, is the color of the ink used to record it in the store ledgers,” Al Haas wrote in the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer on November 28, 1970. The “black ink” explanation became frequent in the 1980s, when “Black Friday” sales became popular in stores.

A false etymology is frequently given that “Black Friday” is when 19th century black slaves were sold at a discount. This false etymology—a pre-dating of 100 years, but without any documentary evidence whatsoever—has been told on Twitter since 2008.

The home improvement retailer The Home Depot has its biggest shopping days in the spring, which it has called “Spring Black Friday.”

“Black Friday” has nothing to do with french fries, but there are puns, such as, “I just got completely burnt fries at a restaurant. It really is Black Fry Day.” Other Black Friday jokes include “Black Friday special! Stay at home and save 100%” and “I don’t know what the big deal is about Black Friday. All Fridays matter.”

[This entry includes the pioneering “Black Friday” research of Bonnie Taylor-Blake that was posted on the American Dialect Society listserv.]

Wikipedia: Black Friday (shopping)
Black Friday (/ˈblæk ˈfraɪdeɪ/) is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1952, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S., and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but California and some other states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time. Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock, creating a state of positive feedback.

Google Books
November 1951, Factory Management and Maintenance (New York, NY), “Tips to Good Human Relations for Factory Executives” by M. J. Murphy, pg. 137:
“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 the “Black Friday” comes along. The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick—and can prove it.

What to do? Many companies have tried the standard device of denying Thanksgiving Day pay to employees absent the day before and after the holiday. Trouble is, you can’t deny pay to those legitimately ill. But what’s legitimate? Tough to decide these days of often miraculously easy doctors’ certificates.

Glenn L. Martin, Baltimore aircraft manufacturer has another solution: When you decide you want to sweeten up the holiday kitty, pick Black Friday to add to the list. That’s just what Martin has done. Friday after Thanksgiving is the company’s seventh paid holiday.

We’re not suggesting more paid holidays just to get out of a hole. But, if you can make a good trade in bargaining, there are lots of worse things than having a holiday on a day that was half holiday anyway. Shouldn’t cost too much for that reason, either.

15 December 1957, Sunday Call-Chronicle (Allentown, PA), “Allentown Shopping Record Set; Christmas Sales Yesterday Top All-Time Highs,” pg. 17, col. 5:
“It far exceeded the Big Friday the day after Thanksgiving when stores were open from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” reported a breathless representative of one of the larger stores.

29 November 1958, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Shoppers Jam Midcity; 102,000 to See Game Today” by James P. McFadden, pg. 1, col. 8:
(Police Inspector Maurice R.—ed.) Pilner directed a total of 450 uniformed policemen, from the Foot Traffic and Motor Highway Divisions, in a heroic attempt to keep traffic moving despite the first big bulge of the holiday season.
All traffic line reflected the police estimate that this was the biggest “Big Friday” of recent holiday seasons. The name is given to the day after Thanksgiving, when Christmas shopping traditionally begins on a major scale.

25 November 1960. Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Christmas Shoppers To Jam Stores In “Big Friday” Spree,” pg. 1, col. 2:
This is “Big Friday,” traditionally the start of the heavy Christmas shopping rush in Philadelphia. Police and city officials pronounced themselves ready Thursday night for the influx into center city of the many thousands expected to jam the department stores, specialty shops and streets of the area.
“‘Big Friday is the biggest (Col. 3—ed.) shopping day of all and, since the schools are closed, thousands of youngsters will come to the midcity area with their parents so they can see Santa Claus in the department stores,” Inspector Halferty said.

25 November 1960, Philadelphia (PA) Daily News, pg. 4, col. 4:
It’s ‘Big Friday’ in Midcity,
Yule Shoppers Flood Stores

Midtown stores girded for their biggest business day of the year today. nd police braced for their biggest traffic headaches.

The occasion: “Big Friday.”

It was the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season. A day which, in past years, has brought the biggest shopping crowds in Philadelphia’s history into its midtown section.

26 November 1960, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 1, col. 2 photo caption:
Part of the vast crowd that thronged to center city for “Big Friday,” traditional Christmas shopping day, is pictures at Juniper and Chestnut sts.

26 November 1960, Philadelphia (PA) Daily News, pg. 23, col. 1 (editorials)L
Have Fun—Safely
We are now about in the middle of what police warily call “The Big Weekend.”

It began Thanksgiving Day and continues through tomorrow night.
It was “Big Friday,” traditionally the start of the Christmas shopping season and part of “The Big Weekend” (see above).

28 November 1960, Women’s Wear Daily (New York, NY), “Initial Christmas Sales Run Even To Slightly Ahead: New York and Cleveland Prove Exceptions — Volume Not Commensurate With Traffic,” pg. 2, col. 5:
(From Philadelphia.—ed.)
All sources were bitter about newspapers and, particularly, repeated radio news bulletins reiterating Mayor Dilworth’s plea for people to leave their cars at home and take public transportation, and reports from police officials forecasting record traffic jams, both vehicular and pedestrian, for “black Friday.”

24 November 1961, The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), “Yule Shopping List Bulging? Don’t Waste a Minute Today,” pg. 3, cols. 2-5:
This is “Big Friday,” looked upon by shoppers and merchants as the major shopping day of the pre-Christmas season.
The Chamber of Commerce looks for the business volume to set a record for Big Friday—always observed by Lehigh Valley area shoppers the day after Thanksgiving.
Merchants advise shoppers to get out early for their top choices. They all reported that Big Friday is the day on which the best choices can be made. Many items will be specially priced for the “early bird” Christmas shopper.

Big Friday is the kickoff for the Christmas shopping season.

26 November 1961, Sunday Bulletin (Philadelphia, PA), pg. 3, col. 3:
Shopper Throngs and Carols
Open Christmas Season

Frederick Yost, sales promotion director for John Wanamaker, said:

“It’s as big a Saturday as we have ever seen, and that’s encouraging for the rest of the shopping season.”

Yost said the store was filled most of the day Friday. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally a big shopping day.

Patrolman Leonard Schork, of the Foot Traffic Division, stood at Broad and Chestnut sts. at noon yesterday and agreed with Yost.

A Day of Waving Arms
“In my division, we call these two days Big Saturday and Big Friday.

“It’s a big season down here. We have 337 men working the traffic beat. It makes a long day of waving arms at jammed-up cars.”

Old Fulton Post Cards
1 December 1961, Shortsville-Manchester Enterprise (Shortsville, NY), “Around and About,” pg. 4, col. 2:
Kathie Caulkin, our intrepid advertising manager, made a serious mistake in judgment last Friday. Took her three kids to Rochester on the day all city police call “Black Friday.”

Besides being the day after Thanksgiving—thus one of the busiest shopping days in the year—bus drivers were still on strike, adding to automotive traffic. Katie reports she waited through 13 changes of a single traffic light—then had to back up to get into the parking garage. “I didn’t care if I crumpled fifty fenders at that point,” Katie reports.

Google Books
18 December 1961, Public Relations News, pg. 2:
Santa has brought Philadelphia stores a present in the form of “one of the biggest shopping weekends in recent history.” At the same time, it has again been proven that there is a direct relationship between sales and public relations.

For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country’s most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday. The media cooperated in spreading the news of the beauty of Christmas-decorated downtown Philadelphia, the popularity of a “family-day outing” to the department stores during the Thanksgiving weekend, the increased parking facilities, and the use of additional police officers for guaranteeing a free flow of traffic (...) Rosen reports that business over the weekend was so good that merchants are giving downtown Philadelphia “a starry-eyed new look.”

28 November 1964, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 34, col. 3:
Thousands Fill Midcity Stores on ‘Big Friday’

13 January 1965, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), “Conversation Pieces” by Bill Beeney, pg. 18, col. 1:
On Black Friday (that’s what police call the day after Thanksgiving, the roughest traffic day of the year) we had a special command post in the Manger Hotel to be closer to the mainstream of traffic,” (Police Chief Bill—ed.) Lombard said.

27 November 1965, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Yule Shoppers Jam Midcity” by Miki Mahoney, pg. 1, col. 2:
It was “Big Friday” in police jargon. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year in center city.

25 November 1966, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 1, col. 2:
‘Big Friday’ Jams Midcity

28 November 1970, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “My Philadelphia: Black Friday: Stores’ Best Day” by Al Haas, pg. 19, col. 1:
Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and the first day of the Christmas shopping season. For department stores and most shops, it is the biggest sales days of the season—and the year.

At 12th and Market, Traffic Patrolman Stanley Makarewicz took enough time out from conducting his orchestra of exhaust pipes to explain why policemen and cab drivers call it Black Friday.

“It is supposed to be the worst traffic day out of the whole year,” the patrolman observed.

LATER, IN HIS OFFICE behind the toy department, the public relations director at John Wanamaker was explaining why department stores like his regard Black Friday as something of a misnomer.

“It’s called Black Friday, but no one knows why,” said Reeves Wetherill, smiling.

About the only thing black about it, he suggested, is the color of the ink used to record it in the store ledgers.

Sales on Black Friday, Wetherill noted, can rise to nearly twice an average day’s receipts. THis day of cash register-gorging then sets the stage for a brief, exceedingly crucial holiday selling season.

As Wetherill noted, “You make or break the whole year during this period.”

“The people in the toy department do 90 percent of their business for the whole year during this period,” he reported.

28 November 1981, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “The traditional ‘Black Friday’ packs the stores with shoppers” by Craig Stock, pg. 7-B, col. 6:
If the day is the year’s biggest for retailers, why is it called Black Friday?

Because it is a day retailers make profits—black ink, said Grace McFeeley of Cherry Hill Mall.

“I think it came from the media,” said William Timmons of Strawbridge & Clothier.

“It’s the employees, we’re the ones who call it Black Friday,” said Belle Stephens of Moorestown Mall.  “We work extra hard.  It’s a long hard day for the employees.”

27 November 1982, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer “Black Friday draws shoppers en masse, but many just to look” by Joyce Gemberlein, pg. 4-A, col. 4:
And judging from the traffic in Philadelphia and on roads leading to suburban malls, consumers at least turned out in numbers consistent with Black Friday.

The day after Thanksgiving gets its name from the idea that merchants make, or pray to make, profits—black ink in their ledgers, rather than red ink—on the day on which consumers traditionally begin to think about and purchase Christmas gifts.

24 November 1984, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 8-D, col. 1 photo caption:
Allison Holcombe, 3, plays with toy bears at the Cherry Hill Mall; yesterday was Black Friday, so called, some say, because it puts stores in the black

29 November 1986, The Times (Trenton, NJ), “Despite crowds, Black Friday sales attract shoppers” by Don Henry III, pg. 1, col. 5:
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally considered the day that retailers can rely on to put themselves financially in the black.

25 November 1994, Philadelphia (PA) Daily News, “This Friday Was Black with Traffic” by Joseph Barrett, pg. 80, col. 4:
The term “Black Friday” came out of the old Philadelphia Police Department’s traffic squad. The cops used it to describe the worst traffic jams which annually occurred in Center City on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
In 1959, the old Evening Bulletin assigned me to police administration, working out of City Hall. Nathan Kleger was the police reporter who covered Center City for the Bulletin.

In the early 1960s, Kleger and I put together a front-page story for Thanksgiving and we appropriated the police term “Black Friday” to describe the terrible traffic conditions.

Center City merchants complained loudly to Police Commissioner Albert N. Brown that drawing attention to traffic deterred customers from coming downtown. I was worried that maybe Kleger and I had made a mistake in using such a term, so I went to Chief Inspector Albert Trimmer to get him to verify it.

Trimmer, tongue in cheek, would say only that Black Friday was used to describe the Valentine’s Day massacre of mobsters in Chicago.

The following year, Brown put out a press release describing the day as ‘’Big Friday.” But Kleger and I held our ground, and once more said it was ‘’Black Friday.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Sunday, September 24, 2017 • Permalink