The use of the term “Black Friday” in reference to the day after Thanksgiving has entered the American lexicon in the last 20 years, but believed to date to the mid-1960s.
In Philadelphia, police officers, cabbies and bus drivers used “Black Friday” to refer to the jam of shoppers driving the city’s streets. The term was used earlier, but not in reference to Christmas shoppers. Black Friday also refers to the onset of the 1869 stock market crash.
Retailers adopted the term because it marked the start of Christmas shopping, when many shops became profitable for the year, thereby getting out of the “red” and operating in the “black.”
Starting the holiday shopping season on Thanksgiving Friday dates back much further, with retailers luring shoppers with sales in the 1890s. By the Great Depression, the day was firmly established in public consciousness as a day to start Christmas shopping. Today, it is estimated that 135 million people shop on Black Friday each year - more than a third of the U.S. population.