In Philadelphia, during 1950, excitement and cheer floated in the air. America had recently won the second great world war and the relief of victory had turned to boundless joy and peace. The horrors of the war had taken a back seat and people were growing young families. The economy was booming. Science was bringing new gadgets to the market every day, like the discovery of DNA and color television. Harry S. Truman, the president, is quoted for saying, “America, at this moment, is at the summit of the world.”
It was a party and the population was ready to celebrate at every opportunity. One of the most traditional events was a college level football game between the Army Black Knights, of the United States Military Academy and the Navy Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy. Young men trained for years to participate and for some it launched professional football careers. The games were friendly but very intense. It was a game of pride and honor. Families would travel from all over the country to attend and support the players.
The Army-Navy game was held on the Saturday of every weekend after Thanksgiving at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, over 100,000 people would flood to Philadelphia from the suburbs and surrounding countryside to shop and enjoy the big city before the game. It was so popular the city would set up temporary train stations and lay temporary railroad tracks just to ease congestion on the roads.
For many, this was one of the best weekends of the year. For the Philadelphia police, it was a time of stress and sleepless nights.
Instead of taking Thanksgiving off and spending time with their families, the Philadelphia police force would be working overtime hours to plan and prepare for the massive amount of traffic coming into the city. And with the stores packed shoulder to shoulder, there was no end to the number of shoplifters to chase. The style for men at the time was trench coats and bowler making it extra easy for those with quick fingers to steal.
To the Philadelphia police this quickly became the most dreaded weekend of the year and within their ranks, it came to be known as, “Black Friday.”
By 1960 the term had caught on by everyone in the city. It was about this time that local retail marketers started trying to use this event to sell more. Instead of calling it “Black Friday” though, they unsuccessfully tried to rename it “Big Friday” to remove any negative associations.
Then, in the late 1980’s, retail marketers hit gold with the idea of turning the whole weekend into the retail holiday with massive price slashes. It took the country by storm. For most retailers, November was one of the slowest months of the year. However, due to the sheer amount sold during this weekend, many accounting books would go from losing money to profitable, or… red-to-black.
The story stuck and the Philadelphia roots were soon forgotten. Yet the retail holiday remained and grew stronger than ever in the event we all know today. So goes the real history of black Friday.