Black Friday
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek
The name "Black Friday" was first coined by police officers in Philadelphia to describe the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush. It has nothing to do with businesses making a profit during the Holiday shopping season.

The day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. has become known as “Black Friday.” Retailers across the country drop prices to kick off the Holiday shopping season. Where did the name for this wild day of consumerism come from?

Black Friday isn’t really a single day anymore. Retailers have stretched the deals to cover the entire month of November—sometimes even longer. Regardless, “Black Friday” is still the name everyone uses for this time of year.

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It’s Not About Profits

Profit chart in the red.
Visuals6x /

If you ask someone where the name “Black Friday” comes from, there’s a good chance you may hear a story that sounds right, but isn’t actually true. It’s a common misconception that the name “Black Friday” is based on financial jargon.

When a business operates at a financial loss, they’re “in the red.” That simply means they’re losing more money than they’re making. When the business is making a profit—making more money than they’re spending—they’re “in the black.”

The story goes that most businesses operate “in the red” for most of the year, but the big Holiday shopping season puts them “in the black.” Hence, the name “Black Friday.” Sounds good, but it’s not the true backstory.

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It’s Always Dark in Philadelphia?

Shopping crowd in mall.
Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs /

The real origin story of “Black Friday” takes place in Philadelphia in the early 1960s. It was first used by police officers to describe the chaos that ensued when large crowds of people would come into the city to start their Holiday shopping and attend the annual Army-Navy football game.

The large crowds caused an influx in traffic incidents and shoplifting, which meant longer shifts than usual for the police officers. They started to refer to the day as “Black Friday” in a derogatory sense. If you’ve ever thought “Black Friday” sounded ominous, you are correct.

Retailers in Philadelphia tried to put a positive spin on it and call the day “Big Friday,” but “Black Friday” stuck, and it was being used across the U.S. by the late 1980s. That’s when the red and black profit backstory started to take hold.

There you have it! The origin of “Black Friday” does indeed pertain to the chaos of the Holiday shopping season. The good news is there are plenty of ways to avoid all the madness and snag great deals from the comfort of your own home.

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Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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