Tag Archives: Great Depression

How Did Black Friday Come to Be?

Black Friday
Petr Kratochvil

The day after Thanksgiving in the United States has been called Black Friday for quite a long time, yet its origins are somewhat confusing owing to some clever remaking of the day by the retailers.

Its historical origins had nothing to do with Thanksgiving but a financial crisis in 1869. On 23 September 1869 a crash occurred in the U.S gold markets that was likely triggered by the actions of Jim Fisk and Jay Gould who tried to buy up as much gold as they could. In doing so, it drove the price of gold sky-high allowing them to sell at a huge profit. When their actions became known, it sent the gold market crashing down but also spread to the stock market resulting in bankers and farmers losing substantial sums of money. Thus, that date on a Friday became known as Black Friday.

The link to retail appears to come from a story about making huge profits on the day after Thanksgiving. In origin story, retailers lived on or near the infamous red line. That red line means they are operating at a near loss or in fact “in the red” meaning they were not making profits. The day after Thanksgiving brought in so many shoppers that they went into the black (meaning making profits), so it became known a Black Friday. While this version is somewhat accurate in that many retailers looked forward to the start of the Christmas season to generate high revenues, it is not the origin of Black Friday either.  Shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, often considered the start of the Christmas season in the United States, does give an indicator as to what consumers are willing to spend If the economy is good. On the other hand, if the economy is not doing well people may not spend much and only buy things they need and items on sale.

There are some who believe it has ties to racism on Southern plantations in the 1800’s. According to this story, it is claimed that owners would buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. This has led to some in the African American community to call for the boycott of stores on Back Friday. Except there appears to be no basis for this story. So far nothing has been found to show that slave auctions of this kind took place the day after Thanksgiving in that era. Like misinterpreting the word picnic as racist (picnic comes from a French word about eating outside and has nothing to do with race), this appears to have been created to fit someone’s perspective on the origins of the day.

The modern use of the term in fact comes from the 1950’s and from the city of Philadelphia. Police called it Black Friday to describe all the chaos that ensued from shoppers racing to shop before the Army-Navy game that was held on Saturday. The bedlam was so bad that no day off was granted to police on this day to deal with the hordes of cars and people in the city. Another factor was that criminals would take advantage of the large crowds to steal wallets, purses, and of course shoplift as well. Retailers were not happy with this connotation and tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday.” This was unsuccessful, so they tried to remake the day by saying this was the day retailers needed to make a profit. This appears to have worked and the darker roots from Philadelphia have been largely forgotten.

Black Friday Shopping
Photo: Public Domain

By remaking the day using sales to drive people into stores, it became an event on its own that spawned other major retails days. Black Friday was marketed as a day to get great bargains and all the major retailers jumped aboard. People began lining up early and some retailers decided to open on Thanksgiving (usually in the evening) to take advantage of the desire to buy discounted items. Ironically it then created things that harkened back to Philadelphia. In recent years when stores opened to the throngs waiting outside, chaos ensued when people raced into the store to grab what they wanted. People got trampled, fights broke out between adults bickering over who was entitled to the product. Many stores started to regulate the number of people in their store at any given time. This has been somewhat successful but when a surge of people all stampede at the door, the best the security guards can do is jump aside or be trampled on.

While Philadelphia is rarely mentioned, the chaos outside usually hearkens back to it. Mall parking lots are jammed, streets are full of cars trying to get in or out, and even freeways near those shopping malls are impacted as well. Up in the air, helicopters fly overhead filming the chaos below. And in major cities or areas where crowds are enormous, the police are often around to manage as best they can the traffic and crime that is going on. The Internet has made a dent, but you must wait for the product to arrive, so it is off to the store! In recent years retailers had started opening on Thanksgiving so people could get in early. Some like Target have rethought that and now are closed for Thanksgiving Day. And that is a good sign. Thanksgiving is a special holiday that should be treated on its own. And Black Friday is all about the shopping.


What’s the Real History of Black Friday? (History.com)
Black Friday History and Statistics  (BlackFriday.com)
Black Friday (Wikipedia)


Happy Sunday/Happy November

Le Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry-November
Jean Colombe (1430–1493)
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

November is the eleventh month on the Gregorian calendar, but its name comes from the Latin word for nine. The reason is that on the old Roman calendar it started in March, so November was the ninth month. The name stuck even when the Roman senate in 153 BC decided to make January the start of the new year. November is the last month of autumn or fall in the northern nemisphere, and the last month of spring in the south.

By this time most countries have returned to standard time and will stay on it until next spring. In some countries, like the U.S., there is a desire to stay on time for the entire year. Some prefer daylight saving as that gives you more sunlight (only because we change the clock) in the summer but your autumn and winter mornings are often darker. Others prefer standard time. Why change the clocks at all is what they argue? Our desire to remake the world to suit how we want it to be is the real problem here. You get the illusion, created by daylight saving time, of more sun but it is just that. In more simpler times, we knew the sun rose and fell at definite times and were content with that. And now with everyone staring at cellphones these days, whether it is day or night hardly seems to matter.

November flower:Chrysanthemums
Photo:Fir0002/Flagstaffotos (via Wikimedia Commons)

November is the time of real change in the north. The Great Lakes sees its worst storms during this time. Snow begins to fall. In other places it is more subtle where the climate is milder during winter. Trees that shed leaves begin doing so, meaning lots of raking up to do on weekends if you have a lot of them on your property. The variables in climate every year might bring more rain one year and less the next. Out in California, the rain is heading to the Pacific Northwest leaving California very dry. Drought has been declared there and very severe in places. When the groundwater begins to go though, you notice structures in those areas start to subtly sink just a bit. And with lakes really dry, you see things long forgotten becoming visible (like in lakes that were created for dams and a small town had to be abandoned).


Have a nice Sunday. Here is some Autumn music to get you in the mood.





Black Friday 2020

Black Friday Shopping
Photo: Public Domain

One of the things I like about Thanksgiving is the gathering of friends and relatives. You spend time sharing and catching up on a lot of things that happened during the year. Kids would be playing together, outside and inside. Laughter and warmth would be the atmosphere of the home as the wonderful smell of turkey slowly cooking filled the air. It had been properly defrosted and brined (brining is an absolute must for a delicious turkey). Some of us would be in the kitchen doing the final stages such as warming up the cranberry sauce made the day before, making the mashed potatoes (often my task), or preparing a nice salad (Greek style).

Sometimes you learn new things as well. A missed item like whipped cream makes you learn how to make it yourself. It is not so hard to do even if you do not have a stand mixer. You do it the old-fashioned way my grandmother did. A chilled bowl, whipped cream, a little vanilla and a large whisk. You stir fast to get those stiff peaks and that it will not easily fall out of the bowl when you turn it over (a test required in culinary school to make sure you have done it right). Once you realize how easy it is to make, those store ones are hardly needed. Those aerosol ones are pretty awful (mostly air and sometimes not even any cream in it-just flavorings!) so making it yourself means some pretty delicious whipped cream for your pumpkin pie.

This year Thanksgiving was very different. Restrictions differed from state to state and even within states. Mandates on how many could be present, mask requirements, having to do it outdoors and more. Some officials even said to avoid the holiday and stay home. It was hard for families, used to visiting with each other, to not gather. Many states are already going back to nearly shutting up again. Once again small business owners are being impacted and for some, I fear, it will be the final blow. They endured months of lockdown and only managed to stay afloat with disaster funds. Some were reopening just as those riots hit destroying the business they had worked so hard to build. Shattered windows, doors busted in, and all the products taken by the mob that had done this. Most just gave up at that point. Signs of “For Rent” or “For Sale” now appear on boarded-up storefronts in many areas.

Black Friday saw thousands storm into stores and malls to shop the bargains. Massive traffic jams occurred keeping police busy directing traffic. News and police helicopters were overhead also watching what was unfolding below. This year it will be much quieter. Most major stores are directing people to their websites to get the same deals they would have gotten in the store. If the store is allowed to open (and that varies depending on state and county), there are restrictions on how many can be in the store. Masks are required and markers indicate where you need to stand for assistance at counters or at checkout stands. Plexiglass screens are up everywhere as well.

Recently I had to travel using our local rapid transit system for a required appointment. It was a Tuesday morning, and the parking lot was mostly empty. The train never really filled up as it made its way to its destination. After I arrived, I walked out of the mostly empty station into what normally would have been a crowded area of people heading to work. It was nearly devoid of people. There were some people about but not many. The coffee shop person indicated that their only traffic now were critical federal office workers from the nearby federal courthouse and government office. The post office, banks and the nearby UPS Store were open but that was about it for the area. With so many offices and businesses closed, they only had a quarter of what was once a booming trade. They had to lay off some staff as well since they could no longer afford them. Money is still quite tight. Now with the prospect of having the coronavirus restrictions extending well into the New Year, it will get harder for the small business owner to stay afloat.

Christmas will be dramatically scaled down as well. Not as many outdoor or even indoor events will be held. Christmas tree lighting will occur but will be streamed instead. Probably a lot of Christmas concerts, stage plays, and ballet will not be held as well (possibly streamed, though to an Internet audience). Every business that used to rely on Christmas events to bring in revenue is going to suffer, both large and small. Some companies will weather it by selling online. Many businesses though cannot do that so easily or at all (like event production companies that create, staff, or build equipment for events). And that will trigger, sadly, a lot more businesses that will shutter triggering more problems for the local and state economies.

When I returned back from my appointment, there had been no extra cars that had parked in the lot. I was just one of a handful of people that got off the train. As I walked the plaza to the parking lot, it was just as empty as it was when I came in earlier that morning. I stopped at the grocery store on the way back. It was fairly crowded but then again it is Thanksgiving week, so people were busy stocking up. I spotted some familiar faces and they indicated they were only buying for themselves and not for the usual crowd they would have over. I mentally calculated that must mean fewer sales of some items. A lot less Yukon gold potatoes, spices, items needed for stuffing, less gravy needed etc.

As I headed home, I wondered how it was we went from a nation that once said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” to now shutting ourselves down because of a virus. I am not downplaying its seriousness, but something is out of whack here. We rose up from that terrible day we were attacked on December 7, 1941. We rebuilt our fleet, got our industrial sector producing needed war materials rapidly, and got sailors and soldiers trained. By the end of 1942, we had won a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway where we sank four Japanese aircraft carriers. We went on from there to push the Japanese back to their main islands and ended the war in 1945.

Now we are in fear and retreating into isolation. Sheltering in place, nonessential businesses closed, and houses of worship shuttered. Is this the hallmark of a post-industrial civilization that mastered malaria, fought measles, and made polio a thing of the past? We made it through a Great Depression that wracked our country in the 1930’s. Millions were out of work, yet we managed some impressive things like building the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam to name a few. Roosevelt was right about fear and that generation knew not to let fear guide them. It appears that lesson has been lost and giving into that fear will cost us enormously economically and politically as well.