[1966] "Black Friday" (day after Thanksgiving)

Bonnie Taylor-Blake taylor-blake at NC.RR.COM
Thu Apr 24 22:58:41 UTC 2008

James D. Smith wrote:

> Rather than a nail in the coffin, I read the attitude of the
> police towards Black Friday as the exception that proves the rule.

If I'm reading you correctly, I'd like to point out that I see a couple
problems with the "red ink to black ink" theory as the origin for this
particular "Black Friday."

The principal flaw is that --  while Martin Apfelbaum was reporting in
January, 1966 that Philly cops were calling the day, with its "massive
traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks," thus -- the proposal that the term
"Black Friday" had to do with putting local businesses "back in the black"
hasn't been found (granted, so far) to appear before November, 1981 [1].
(The previous earliest sightings, also out of Philadelphia, of "Black
Friday" as the day after Thanksgiving date to November, 1975; these also
refer to traffic and crowds and omit mention of black ink.)  And, although
Apfelbaum certainly did describe his Philadelphia stamp shop as hopping on
that Friday and Saturday in 1965 (so it must've been a profitable holiday
weekend), it's interesting to me that this merchant chose to present the
phrase in this somewhat negative light, as Philadelphia police officers used

That and the problem that "Black Friday" as a general term invariably
carries negative connotations, however serious or semi-serious.  To me, at
least, its application to those hectic, overcrowded Fridays on Thanksgiving
weekends in the heart of Philadelphia would've made for an appropriate,
humorous pejorative.  I'm leery of the notion that this was used positively
from the outset, as a reference to store owners gleefully watching weekend
sales bring their accounts back into the black.  News accounts coming out of
Philadelphia in the early 1980s [2] seem to bear out my skepticism.

Me, I'm betting that offering up the "black ink" explanation was a later
attempt to rehabilitate a negatively tinged (however humorous) phrase that
just wouldn't go away.

-- Bonnie


[1] [From "Shoppers Flood Stores for 'Black Friday'," *The Philadelphia
Inquirer*, 28 November 1981, Pg. B04.]

If the day is the year's biggest for retailers, why is it called Black

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 &

"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."



[From Jennifer Lin's "Good Start, Shopping Season Opens with Crush of
Customers," *The Philadelphia Inquirer*, 24 November 1984, Pg. A01.]

The strength of yesterday's sales quashed any doubts among retailers that
the season would not live up to expectations.

"It looks good to me," Peter Strawbridge, president of Strawbridge &
Clothier, said. "All the indicators are that this is going to be a good

The only thing that disturbed Strawbridge was the persistence of people in
referring to the day as "Black Friday."

"It sounds like the end of the world, and we really like the day," he said.
"If anything it should be called 'Green Friday.'"

How the day got its name is a matter of debate. Shoppers contend that it is
derived from the enormous crowds that make shopping somewhat unpleasant. But
merchants say it has to do with the fact that the level of sales before
Christmas can mean the difference between losses for the year -- or red ink
on a retailer's ledger -- and profits -- or black ink.


[From Jennifer Lin's "Why the Name Black Friday?  Uh ... Well ...," *The
Philadelphia Inquirer*, 30 November 1985, Business, Pg. D08.]

The caller wanted to know about retail sales at Hess's department store in
Allentown on Black Friday.  But the question touched a sensitive nerve for
Irwin Greenberg, chairman of the chain.

"That's the most disgusting thing I've ever heard," snapped Greenberg.

Retail sales?

No, he steamed, the term Black Friday.

"Black Friday is a phrase that's sinful and it's disgusting," a perturbed
Greenberg said.

"Why would anyone call a day, when everyone is happy and has smiles on their
faces, Black Friday?" he asked.

Greenberg, a 30-year veteran of the retail trade, says it is a Philadelphia
expression. "It surely can't be a merchant's expression," he said.

A spot check of retailers from across the country suggests that Greenberg
might be on to something.

"I've never heard it before," laughed Carol Sanger, a spokeswoman for
Federated Department Stores in Cincinnati, which is the largest department
store operator in the country. "Black Friday out here means the day of the
Great Flood in 1937."

"I have no idea what it means," said Bill Dombrowski, director of media
relations for Carter Hawley Hale Stores Inc. in Los Angeles. "We don't have
anything like that out in Los Angeles.  But we do celebrate Cinco de Mayo
Day, which is when Mexico overthrew Emperor Maximilian."

>From the National Retail Merchants Association, the industry's trade
association in New York, came this terse statement:

"Black Friday is not an accepted term in the retail industry and as far as
retailers are concerned, it is understood to mean the Friday the stock
market crashed in 1929." (The first huge drop in stock prices actually
occurred on Oct. 24, a Thursday, but the New York Stock Exchange closed on
Nov. 1, a Friday.)

Retailers, in general, loathe the term. The Center City Association of
Proprietors [Philadelphia], in fact, has been lobbying quietly for years to
banish the word from the city's vocabulary.

"We hate it," said Peter Strawbridge, president of Strawbridge & Clothier.

Local shoppers yesterday could not provide any insight into when or how the
term got started.  Many simply said that it is a phrase that they have been
using for years to describe the day after Thanksgiving.

If shoppers are at a loss to explain the origins of the phrase and merchants
don't own up to it, could it be that the term was coined by ... no, not the

Yes, the press, suggests Joyce Mantyla, a spokeswoman for John Wanamaker.

"The media may have dubbed the term, kind of tongue-in-cheek, because it is
the toughest time to shop," Mantyla said. "And we've been inundated so much
with it that we have come to accept it."

Armchair etymologists -- including retailers, shoppers and reporters --
analyze the meaning of the term in several ways.

As Mantyla suggests, shoppers might view the crush of humanity in stores
with some trepidation, making black, as in gloom-and-doom black, an apt
adjective for describing the day.

One retailing insider added that sales clerks who have to work that day --
and deal with the mobs of customers -- may have come up with the

David Feld, president of the six-store Today's Man chain, has a novel
explanation.  He credits the Philadelphia Police Department.

"Years ago, the business of Christmas was celebrated entirely in Center
City," said Feld, a Philadelphia native. "You would go to Gimbels, walk down
to Wanamakers, then go to the stores lining Market Street and Chestnut

"There were no suburban malls and the city was where you went to shop. The
Police Department dreaded the day because the traffic became impossible and
they were flooded with calls about shoplifting. And that made it the
blackest day of the year for them," Feld said.

A more accepted explanation among merchants, however, is that the black in
Black Friday refers to profits. With a windfall of earnings coming in during
the Christmas season, it is a day when the number crunchers for retailers
can put down their red pencils and start using their black pencils to write
profits into ledgers.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society
> [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of James Smith
> Sent: Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:47 AM
> Subject: Re: [1966] "Black Friday" (day after Thanksgiving)
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       James Smith <jsmithjamessmith at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: [1966] "Black Friday" (day after Thanksgiving)
> --------------------------------------------------------------
> -----------------
> Rather than a nail in the coffin, I read the attitude of the
> police towards Black Friday as the exception that proves the rule.
> James D. SMITH                 |If history teaches anything
> South SLC, UT                  |it is that we will be sued
> jsmithjamessmith at yahoo.com     |whether we act quickly and decisively
>                                |or slowly and cautiously.
> --- On Wed, 4/23/08, Bonnie Taylor-Blake
> <taylor-blake at NC.RR.COM> wrote:
> > From: Bonnie Taylor-Blake <taylor-blake at NC.RR.COM>
> > Subject: [1966] "Black Friday" (day after Thanksgiving)
> > Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2008, 5:14 PM
> > Because it's never too early to be thinking about
> > Thanksgiving and Black
> > Friday, I submit what follows as a nail in the coffin of
> > that "from red ink
> > to black ink" explanation for how this particular
> > Friday got its name.
> >
> > By the way, Google Books provided a not-very-helpful
> > snippet view of the
> > following advertisement, which appeared in the January 1966
> > issue (Volume
> > 79, No. 4, p. 239) of *The American Philatelist*.  Thanks
> > go to Ellen
> > Peachey of the American Philatelic Research Library
> > (Bellefonte,
> > Pennsylvania); she came to the rescue, locating the text in
> > question and
> > sending the appropriate PDF to me, all with good humor.
> >
> > -- Bonnie
> >
> > -----------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > [This advertisement is in the form of a column written by
> > Martin L.
> > Apfelbaum, Executive Vice President of Earl P.L. Apfelbaum,
> > Inc., of
> > Philadelphia.  PDF available upon request.]
> >
> >
> > *Philadelphia's "Black Friday"*
> >
> > JANUARY 1966 -- "Black Friday" is the name which
> > the Philadelphia Police
> > Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving
> > Day.  It is not a
> > term of endearment to them.  "Black Friday"
> > officially opens the Christmas
> > shopping season in center city, and it usually brings
> > massive traffic jams
> > and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are
> > mobbed from opening to
> > closing.
> >
> > This year proved to be no exception -- especially at
> > Apfelbaum's.  The pace
> > was hectic and the traffic was heavy.  Here's a capsule
> > report of how
> > Apfelbaum's weathered "Black Friday."
> >
> > [...]
> >
> > All in all, "Black Friday" certainly lived-up to
> > its reputation.  In fact it
> > lasted for two days, with more of the same traffic and
> > congestion the
> > Saturday which followed.
> >
> > Is this activity unusual?  A little.  But just stop in on
> > any day of the
> > week and you will see more action at Apfelbaum's than
> > at any stamp shop in
> > the world.
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> > http://www.americandialect.org
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