“Black Friday” as a name for the day after Thanksgiving was coined by police officers in New England. One of the earliest documented references of this was in December of 1961, where Denny Griswold of Public Relations News stated: “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… merchants with their Deputy City Representative… He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.” (Referring to the traffic and number of accidents.)
“Big Friday” never caught on, but over the next decade, more and more references can be found in various newspaper archives of this particular Friday being called “Black Friday” for this reason.
In the 1980s as the name’s popularity spread throughout the United States, a new origin theory popped up, often touted by the media, that most retailers operated at a financial loss for the majority of the year and Black Friday was named such because it was the day of the year when the retailers would finally see a profit, moving out of the red and into the black.
This simply isn’t true. While there are some retailers that depend on the Christmas season’s revenue to make a profit for the year, most see profits every quarter based on the quarterly SEC filings of major retailers in the United States. There are also no documented references to this potential origin predating November of 1981.
Another common theory often put forth is that the name came from the famous “Great Depression” stock market crash in 1929. While this does pre-date the “New England police” origin, the problem is that the event in question happened on a Tuesday, not a Friday- also, it was on October 29th, so had nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving.
The actual “Black Friday” stock market scare happened in 1869, was in September, and had to do with gold prices- so, again, nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving.
While we’re on the topic of Black Friday myths, it should be noted that Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year. In fact, it’s typically not even in the top five, though has cracked the ranks a few times.
Actually, the biggest shopping day of the year is nearly always the Saturday before Christmas, except when Christmas falls on a weekend day, in which case the biggest shopping day of the year is usually the Thursday or Friday before Christmas. Thus, the procrastinators seem to outnumber the early birds.