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Black Friday: A brief history and little known facts

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Black Friday has long served as the kick-off for the holiday shopping season, but the annual retail event is a day that’s arguably shrouded in a little mystery.

While competing myths may have left some history-loving shoppers scratching their heads, the general consensus is that Black Friday got its start in Pennsylvania in the 20th century.

“Many people think that ‘Black Friday’ comes from the idea that it’s a highly profitable day for retailers, one where they’re getting ‘out of the red’ and ‘into the black,’” said Jay Myers, the co-founder and vice president of growth at Bold Commerce. 

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“The term didn’t actually originate from retailers,” he added. “Philadelphia police officers first used the term ‘Black Friday’ in the 1960s to describe the day after Thanksgiving, when a flurry of tourists came into the city to shop, causing traffic jams and accidents.”

1. The first recorded ‘Black Friday’: The first time the term “Black Friday” was used on a national level came in September 1869. But, it wasn’t in reference to holiday shopping, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

History records show the term was used to describe American Wall Street financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, who bought up a significant portion of the nation’s gold to drive up the price. The pair weren’t able to re-sell the gold at the inflated profit margins they planned for and their business venture got unveiled on Sept. 24, 1869.

“The scheme ultimately came to light on that Friday in September, throwing the stock market into rapid decline and bankrupting everybody from Wall Street millionaires to poor citizens,” said Lyle David Solomon, a bankruptcy attorney at Oak View Law Group. “The stock market plummeted by 20%, and foreign trading ceased. The value of wheat and corn harvests dropped by half for peasants.”

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2. Black Friday is celebrated in other countries: America isn’t the only country that celebrates Black Friday. Fourteen countries reportedly observe the annual holiday shopping event, according to Baruch Labunski – the CEO at Rank Secure, a digital analytics and SEO marketing firm.

The countries that observe Black Friday include Canada, the U.K., South Africa, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

3. Black Friday sale events have extended: For more than 60 years, Black Friday has been one of the busiest days for retail stores and holiday shoppers. The event has gotten longer with early or extended Black Friday doorbusters that customers can take advantage of in stores and online.

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“Today, Black Friday has turned into more than a month-long event, with retailers looking at it as a huge customer acquisition event,” said Myers.

Retail stores have followed up Black Friday sales with Cyber Monday and Cyber Week events where shoppers can make holiday purchases exclusively online.

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