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What is Black Friday and How Did it Start?

In the US, Black Friday is popularly known as the Friday following Thanksgiving, typically on the fourth Friday of November, which marks the start of the shopping season. It has been the busiest shopping day in the country for almost two decades, with stores offering attractive discounts and other promotions as early as midnight.  

According to the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, Black Friday has contributed almost 20% of annual sales for many retailers from 2017 to 2021. Retailers often extend their promotional activities over the weekend to take advantage of this shopping behavior.   

This shopping tradition had become so popular that even global customers join in the fun by buying in the online stores of participating brands. Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada have also started adopting this shopping holiday in recent years.  

Origin of Black Friday 

Black Friday origin

While the event is now mostly associated with shopping, Black Friday did not start this way. The term was first used in 1869 when gold prices plummeted and caused a market crash that reverberated through the US economy for many years. This happened on September 24 when the sudden drop in gold prices caused a domino effect on the stock market, causing financial ruin for several Wall Street Firms and thousands of speculators, and even freezing up foreign trade.  

Following this catastrophe, the subsequent known use of the term became popular 100 years later during the 1960s through the Philadelphia Police. At that time, tourists often flock to the city between Thanksgiving and the annual Army-Navy football game, which takes place on a Saturday. The day before the game, police officers had to work long hours to deal with traffic problems, bad weather, and crowd control. Hence, they called it “Black Friday”. 

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For retailers, though, this was a huge opportunity to sell more if they could attract more tourists to enter their doors. They began to come up with enticing sales promotions and newer ways of drawing customers to their stores.  

This became a regular practice for several years until a tradition was established, and the term became synonymous with shopping around the late 1980s. At this time, the term “Black Friday” was already strongly associated with sales and consumerism, referring to a period when retail sales would shift from operating at a loss or being “in the red” to a more profitable position or being “in the black”. 

Black Friday Disasters and Horror Stories 

During Black Friday, it is customary to hear people excitedly talking about scoring a great deal or purchasing something they have wanted for a long time. Unfortunately, not all stories related to Black Friday are happy ones.  

The great deals offered during this period resulted in a frantic dash to stores, which sometimes led to arguments, chaos, and occasional violence among shoppers. Here are some of the more famous scandals and horror stories about Black Friday over the years: 

1. Gift Card Rush in 2006 

A marketing campaign went awry in 2006 when a Black Friday event caused pandemonium in southern California. The Del Amo Fashion Center wanted to create hype through a surprise giveaway and suddenly announced the release of 500 balloons containing gift cards for lucky shoppers inside the mall. 

The balloons were dropped from the ceiling, and more than 2,000 people rushed to grab one, eventually creating a frenzied mob that was focused on the prize while disregarding safety. A total of ten people were injured, including an elderly woman who had to be sent to the hospital for treatment.  

2. Deadly Stampede in 2008 

Now known as one of the most tragic events surrounding Black Friday, this stampede in New York caused the death of security staff in Walmart. The tragedy happened in the early morning as more than 2,000 frenzied shoppers rushed inside the store before the doors officially opened, hoping to get the best deals before somebody else did.  

Jdimytai Damour was a 34-year-old temporary staff tasked to man the doors that day. During the rush, he was attempting to protect a pregnant woman from getting crushed when he was trampled to death by the rushing crowd. Aside from Damour, four other shoppers suffered from injuries, including the pregnant woman who eventually miscarried as a result of the incident.  

3. Shooting Over a TV in 2009 

Sometimes, being able to buy an item at a great price is not an assurance that you get to keep it. Such was the case in Las Vegas in 2009 with an elderly man who was shot by robbers who wanted to grab his newly bought flat-screen TV.  

The 64-year-old man was ambushed by three robbers on his way home from the store. Though he was shot during the scuffle, he, fortunately, survived the incident. The robbers were not apprehended, but they also failed to bring the appliance with them since it couldn’t fit in the getaway car.  

4. Marine Getting Stabbed in 2010 

A shoplifting attempt in Georgia turned almost deadly in 2010 when the thief pulled a knife and stabbed one of the four US Marines chasing after him. The incident happened in Best Buy after employees caught a shopper trying to snatch a laptop from the store. 

The Marines were volunteering at a charity bin for Toys for Tots when the commotion started, which led to their involvement. Fortunately, the stabbing was not fatal, and the Marine recovered from the injury while the authorities also apprehended the shoplifter.  

5. Pepper Spray Attack in 2011 

Most shoppers would resort to arguments or complain to the store management whenever they have disagreements. However, in 2011, one bargain hunter in Los Angeles took her dissatisfaction to another level when she used pepper spray against fellow shoppers. 

This 32-year-old female customer doused the crowd with pepper spray as they fought for a discounted Xbox in Walmart, injuring 20 people. She did not receive felony charges as she claimed the act was due to self-defense after the other shoppers attacked her two children.  

6. Car Accident After Shopping in 2012 

Although this tragedy did not happen inside a store, it was still directly related to Black Friday. It was a car accident that occurred in California early on a Saturday morning after a family of six spent a long night shopping for the eldest daughter’s upcoming wedding.  

Exhausted and sleep-deprived, the father fell asleep while driving, causing the vehicle to roll over and crash. The accident killed two of his daughters, including the bride-to-be, who was not wearing a seatbelt at the time.  

7. Shopper Ran Amok in 2016 

Some incidents of violence or disturbances during Black Friday appear unprovoked, such as the case in 2016 in Canada. Adidas had announced the release of a rare athletic shoe in one of their Vancouver stores in time for their Black Friday event.  

Driven by the excitement over this launch, a crowd had gathered outside the store since early morning. However, the store never got to open its doors because one of the male shoppers suddenly turned violent and started running around while swinging his belt like a whip, causing a commotion in the crowd. The police eventually arrested him, and the shoes were raffled off the next day instead.  

Black Friday 

Today Black Friday remains one of the most important shopping dates, falling on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Another important date is Cyber Monday, which is the Monday after Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday has also become popular for shopping, making it a weekend of sales and shopping.  

Wrap Up 

Black Friday is a shopping tradition that started in the US and has begun to spread to other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom. It is mainly associated with shopping frenzy, great deals, and one-of-a-kind brand offers. However, this event has also led to a few tragedies over the years, which have caused several injuries and even a few deaths.  

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.