Did the 1869 US gold market crash start Black Friday?

7 min read

It is important to remember that “Black Friday” initially did not refer to the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping spree, but rather to the financial crisis, namely the collapse of the US gold market on September 24, 1869, which caused the phrase “Black Friday” to be coined. 

In an attempt to skyrocket the price of gold and sell it for phenomenal gains, two legendary Wall Street businessmen, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, banded together and purchased as much gold as they could in the country in order to skyrocket the price and sell it for phenomenal gains. 

On that Friday in September, the scheme finally became public knowledge, resulting in the stock market plunging into a complete collapse and bankrupting a number of Wall Street titans as well as farmers who were involved in the scheme.

Black Friday is often associated with merchants, particularly when it comes to Thanksgiving shopping, and that is one of the most commonly told explanations for the ritual. Apparently, it is a legend that on the day following Thanksgiving, shops would turn a profit (or “go into the black”) as a result of holiday consumers spending so much money on reduced merchandise on the day following Thanksgiving for the first time ever. 

Despite the fact that retail companies have historically recorded earnings in black in their accounting books, and losses in red in their records, this official, if fictitious, origin story for Black Friday describes how the tradition came to be.

The use of the custom has also been portrayed in a particularly unpleasant light in recent years as the result of a story that has emerged. There was a time in the 1800s when Southern plantation owners were able to buy enslaved labourers for a reduced price on the day after Thanksgiving. 

Black Friday is a retail holiday that has rightfully been criticised as a fraud by some in response to this story of its origins. However, as far as I am concerned, this suggestion is completely unfounded.

The truth is, however, that Black Friday does not really have the same positive connotations as merchants might like you to believe. During the 1950s, the phrase ‘the Mayhem of the 1950s’ was used by police in the city of Philadelphia in order to describe the chaos that resulted when suburban shoppers and visitors descended upon the city the day after Thanksgiving in order to prepare for the annual Army-Navy football game. 

There were several reports that the police in Philadelphia were forced to work extra-long hours in order to deal with the increase in traffic and people, in addition to not being able to take a day off on this particular day. Adding to the difficulty of law officers, shoplifters also took advantage of the chaos in stores by stealing items from them, making matters worse for them.

It was in 1961 that “Black Friday” had become so popular in Philadelphia that business owners and supporters tried in vain and failed to change its name from Black Friday” to “Big Friday” so that it could shed its negative connotations. 

It took much longer for the word to catch on elsewhere in the nation, and it wasn’t widely used until 1985, at which point it became more popular. There was a time, however, when merchants managed to reimagine Black Friday in the late 1980s, turning it into an event that reflected well on them and their clientele, rather than a negative reflection on them. 

The result of this was the origin of the previously described “red to black” holiday and the idea that America’s retailers would in fact generate a profit on the day following Thanksgiving as a result.

The legend of Black Friday gained a considerable amount of popularity over the years, and soon enough, people were barely aware of the term’s seedier origins in Philadelphia. There have been several “retail holidays” that have arisen as a result of the one-day sales extravaganza – including Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, and Small Business Sunday – since then. 

Stores began opening earlier on Black Friday so that the most loyal customers could leave straight after Thanksgiving dinner, so that they could experience as many deals as possible. 

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