For centuries, the adjective "black" has been applied to days upon which calamities occurred. Many events have been described as "Black Friday", although the most significant such event in American History was the Panic of 1869, which occurred when financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk took advantage of their connections with the Grant Administration in an attempt to corner the gold market. When President Grant learned of this manipulation, he ordered the Treasury to release a large supply of gold, which halted the run and caused prices to drop by eighteen percent. Fortunes were made and lost in a single day, and the president's own brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, was ruined.
The day after Thanksgiving as the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season may be linked together with the idea of Santa Claus parades. Parades celebrating Thanksgiving often include an appearance by Santa at the end of the parade, with the idea that "Santa has arrived" or "Santa is just around the corner" because Christmas is always the next major holiday following Thanksgiving.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Santa or Thanksgiving Day parades were sponsored by department stores. These included the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, in Canada, sponsored by Eaton's, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade sponsored by Macy's. Department stores would use the parades to launch a big advertising push. Eventually, it just became an unwritten rule that no store would try doing Christmas advertising before the parade was over. Therefore, the day after Thanksgiving became the day when the shopping season officially started.
Thanksgiving Day's relationship to Christmas shopping led to controversy in the 1930s. Retail stores would have liked to have a longer shopping season, but no store wanted to break with tradition and be the one to start advertising before Thanksgiving. For this reason, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation proclaiming Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday in November rather than the last Thursday, meaning in some years one week earlier, in order to lengthen the Christmas shopping season.
The earliest known use of "Black Friday" to refer to the day after Thanksgiving occurred in the journal, Factory Management and Maintenance, for November 1951, and again in 1952.
In 1961, the city and merchants of Philadelphia attempted to improve conditions, and a public relations expert recommended rebranding the days, "Big Friday" and "Big Saturday"; but these terms were quickly forgotten.
Use of the phrase spread slowly, first appearing in The New York Times on November 29, 1975, in which it still refers specifically to "the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year" in Philadelphia. Although it soon became more widespread, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 1985 that retailers in Cincinnati and Los Angeles were still unaware of the term.
As the phrase gained national attention in the early 1980s, merchants objecting to the use of a derisive term to refer to one of the most important shopping days of the year suggested an alternative derivation: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving.
When this was recorded in the financial records, once-common accounting practices would use red ink to show negative amounts and black ink to show positive amounts. Black Friday, under this theory, is the beginning of the period when retailers would no longer be "in the red", instead taking in the year's profits.
The earliest known published reference to this explanation occurs in The Philadelphia Inquirer for November 28, 1981.
Since the start of the 21st century, there have been attempts by retailers with origins in the United States such as Amazon to introduce a retail "Black Friday" as it would be understood by Americans, into the United Kingdom.
The large population centers on Lake Ontario and the Lower Mainland in Canada have always attracted cross-border shopping into the US states, and as Black Friday (French: Vendredi Noir) became more popular in the US, Canadians often flocked to the US because of their lower prices and a stronger Canadian dollar. After 2001, many were traveling for the deals across the border. Starting in 2008 and 2009, due to the parity of the Canadian dollar compared with the American dollar, several major Canadian retailers ran Black Friday deals of their own to discourage shoppers from leaving Canada.
In 2008, a crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York, waited outside for the 5:00 am opening of the local Wal-Mart.
For many years, retailers pushed opening times on Black Friday earlier and earlier, eventually reaching midnight, before opening on the evening of Thanksgiving. In 2009, Kmart opened at 7:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving, in order to allow shoppers to avoid Black Friday traffic and return home in time for dinner with their families. Two years later, a number of retailers began opening at 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., on what became derisively known as "Black Thursday". In subsequent years, other stores have followed this trend, opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day, or remaining open all day, beginning in the early morning hours. Some retail and media sources have used the terms "Gray Thursday" or "Brown Thursday" instead.
In Norway, Black Friday started as a publicity stunt campaign back in 2010 to increase the sales to the shopping mall Norwegian Outlet. Since the introduction, it has been promoted every year in a larger and growing market all over the country.
A man in Buffalo, New York, was trampled when doors opened at a Target store and unruly shoppers rushed in, in an episode reminiscent of the deadly 2008 Wal-Mart stampede.
During Black Friday 2010, a Madison, Wisconsin woman was arrested outside of a Toys 'R' Us store after cutting in line, and threatening to shoot other shoppers who tried to object.
On Black Friday 2011, a woman at a Porter Ranch, California Walmart used pepper spray on fellow shoppers, causing minor injuries to a reported 20 people who had been waiting hours for the store to open. The incident started as people waited in line for the newly discounted Xbox 360.
In an incident outside a Walmart store in San Leandro, California, one man was wounded after being shot following Black Friday shopping at about 1:45 a.m.
The year 2012 saw the biggest Black Friday to date in Canada, as Canadian retailers embraced it in an attempt to keep shoppers from travelling across the border.
On Black Friday 2012, two people were shot outside a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Florida, during a dispute over a parking space.
In 2013 Asda (a subsidiary of the American firm Walmart) announced its "Walmart's Black Friday by ASDA" campaign promoting the American concept of a retail "Black Friday" in the UK.
On Black Friday in 2013, a person in Las Vegas who was carrying a big-screen TV home from a Target store on Thanksgiving was shot in the leg as he tried to wrestle the item back from a robber who had just stolen it from him at gunpoint.
The 2014 "Black Thursday" sales were, in general, a failure, as overall sales for the holiday weekend fell 11% compared to the previous year despite heavy traffic at the stores on Thanksgiving night.
For Middle East, UAE Black Friday started as White Friday campaign in 2014.
French businesses are slowly introducing the Black Friday custom into the market. Discounts of up to 85% were given by retailing giants such as Apple and Amazon in 2014.
On April 23, 2014, .blackfriday joined a growing list of ICANN top-level domains (such as—traditionally—.com, .net, and .org).
In 2015, Amazon.com held a "Prime Day" event in July and promised better deals than on Black Friday, with repeat Prime Days taking place in 2016 and 2017.
Other companies followed with "Black Friday in July" deals which were as good as, or better than, those in November.
In 2015, 11 million Romanians say they have heard about Black Friday which is 73% of the 15 million people target segment. 6.7 million plan on buying something on biggest shopping event of the year in Romania.
In 2015, Swiss retailer Manor was the first to launch a special Black Friday promotion. The year after, most Swiss retailers launched special offers during the Black Friday Week. It is estimated that customers spent around 400 million Swiss Francs on Black Friday 2018.
Asda announced that it would not take part in the 2015 Black Friday.
In 2015, Black Friday was predicted to become the biggest day of shopping in Britain, with as much as £2bn spent in shops and online in 24 hours.
In 2016, because of the terror attacks in Paris in November the year before, some retailers used the name "Jour XXL" (XXL day) instead of Black Friday.
Black Friday appears to be growing in popularity year on year in the UK. In 2016, total spending on online retail sites on Black Friday 2016 was £1.23bn, marking a +12.2% increase on the £1.1bn spent on the same day in 2015.
In 2016, 21-year-old Demond Cottman was shot and killed around 1 a.m. Friday morning outside a Macy's store in New Jersey. The shooter fired multiple shots, leaving an SUV covered in bullet holes, but the motives remain unclear. Cottman's 26-year-old brother was also injured.
In 2017, retail sales in the UK grew faster in November than in December for the first time.
At the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, Alabama, Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., was shot and killed by a security guard after two people were wounded in a shooting. On Saturday, the police announced that the shooter was not Bradford, but he was involved in the shooting.
A fight led to a shooting in the food court of the Destiny USA mall in Syracuse, New York. The mall went into lockdown until shoppers and staff were released starting at about 8:00 pm with all shopping activity suspended. 21-year-old Kyree Truax was arrested and charged with second-degree assault, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and second-degree reckless endangerment for shooting the victim twice in the leg.