Strategy: Photos show the rise and fall of Black Friday

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Before Black Friday was the shopping extravaganza it is today, it was a disruptive and chaotic day in Philadelphia.

Black Friday wasn't always the post-Thanksgiving dinner extravaganza we know today. And it looks like it won't be in the future, either.

  • Though Black Friday became one of the biggest and busiest shopping days of the year, it hasn't always been that way.
  • Before it exploded into the national, post-Thanksgiving event we know today, it was reportedly a quirky tradition unique to Philadelphians.
  • And now, the holiday is experiencing more changes.
  • Here's the evolution of Black Friday, from its 19th-century namesake to the dying shopping phenomenon it is today.

Black Friday has long been associated with turkey dinner and bargain-priced holiday shopping.

It's turned into one of the most profitable days for retailers, who raked in $8 billion from Black Friday and Thanksgiving sales in 2017.

But it wasn't always that way.

Here's how Black Friday has evolved over the last two centuries.

The day after Thanksgiving has long marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season, starting with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924.

Source: Business Insider

The behemoth retailer used the event as a living and breathing advertisement ahead of the holiday season.

Source: Business Insider

It helped cement the Friday after Thanksgiving as the ultimate holiday shopping day.

Source: INSIDER

But then the Great Depression hit a few years later in 1929.

Source: History

Retailers relied upon holiday sales so heavily that they petitioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 to move Thanksgiving up a week.

Source: Time

Thanksgiving fell on the fifth Thursday of November that year, and an extra week would give Americans more time to shop, so he obliged in order to lift the slumped economy.

Source: Time

But he waited until October to announce the change, and so many didn't honor it, leading to essentially two Thanksgivings being held that year.

Source: TIME

The moved-up Thanksgiving was known as "Franksgiving."

Source: TIME

But, eventually, the new Thanksgiving caught on.

Source: National Archives

And in 1941, President Roosevelt signed a resolution forever establishing the fourth Thursday instead of the last Thursday of November as the national Thanksgiving holiday …

Source: National Archives

… which ensured that Americans had an extra week to shop.

Source: National Archives

By the 1950s, the phenomenon of Black Friday had yet to fully materialize, though the day after Thanksgiving remained a common Christmas shopping occasion.

It was during this time, however, that Black Friday was first used to describe shopping mania.

Source: History

Back then, the Army-Navy football game was held on the Saturday after each Thanksgiving in Philadelphia.

Source: History

The Friday before saw throngs of people pour into the city ahead of the game to shop, much to the chagrin of cops, who couldn't take the day off and who were instead tasked with managing the chaotic congestion.

Source: BBC

They christened the Friday "Black Friday," a name borrowed from a stock-market tizzy in 1869 that was spurred by plummeting gold prices.

Source: Britannica

The term was eventually embraced by Philadelphia business owners, but not before they attempted to rebrand the event "Big Friday" to remove any negative connotation.

Source: CNN Money and History

Obviously, it didn't stick, and Black Friday remained a quirky Philadelphia tradition.

Source: BBC

But then, in the late 1980s and mid-1990s, retailers outside of Philadelphia cleverly tried to flip the negative-sounding "Black Friday" into something they could profit from.

Source: History

That included coming up with a different origin story for the name of the shopping bonanza.

Source: BBC

This is when the "going into the black" concept was born, named after the business practice of recording one's losses in red and one's profits in black.

Source: BBC

The idea was that the day after Thanksgiving would bring in so many sales that it would push businesses "out of the red" and "into the black."

Source: History

Although it is true that the holiday season is a profitable time for retailers, various reports debunk that story as the true meaning behind "Black Friday."

Source: History and CNN Money and BBC

Nevertheless, that's the story that was used to explain the meaning behind the term.

Source: CNN Money

By the 1990s, Black Friday hadn't yet turned into the shopping extravaganza we know today, but it was an unofficial retail holiday of sorts.

Source: Time

It grew more and more popular, with crowds rising in numbers as well.

Source: Business Insider

Around 2002, Black Friday became the season's biggest shopping day.

Source: Time

Before that, the Saturday before Christmas was the shopping day that brought in the most retail sales.

Source: BBC

Black Friday also became an unexpectedly competitive sport.

So much so that customers became willing to literally camp out in store parking lots just to be the first to get their hands on bargains.

Source: Fortune

TVs, sometimes on sale for under $800, are some of the most popular items to buy through Black Friday deals.

Source: Black Friday

But so are other electronics, like video games and movies …

… beauty products …

… and clothing.

The deals are sometimes so appealing to consumers that Black Friday has entered markets in countries that don't normally celebrate Thanksgiving, like in the UK and Brazil.

Source: Business Insider

Employees even have pre-shopping group huddles to prepare for the onslaught of shopping hysteria.

Black Friday events have also seen their share of violence, unruly crowds, damaged store goods, and even stampedes.

Source: INSIDER

There have even been fatalities — an employee was trampled to death by eager shoppers at a New York Walmart in 2008.

Source: NY Daily News

That same year, the Great Recession hit.

Source: Fortune

Licking its wounds from a calamitous couple of slumped holiday seasons, retailers brought out the big guns in 2010, offering heavily discounted items and doorbuster sales.

Source: Fortune

Sales weren't confined to just the day after Thanksgiving any longer, either.

Around 2010, retailers began opening their doors for doorbuster sales on Thanksgiving Day.

Source: Fortune

Toys "R" Us set a 10 p.m. opening time on Thanksgiving …

Source: Fortune

… and Sears opened its doors from 7 .a.m to noon.

Source: Fortune

Walmart also began opening doors on Thanksgiving evening in 2011.

Source: BBC

Then retailers began to offer Black Friday sales as early as the Wednesday night before Black Friday.

Source: Macy's

The bargain shopping days leading up to Black Friday became informally known as White Wednesday and Grey Thursday.

Source: ABC 15 Arizona

The commercial encroachment on Thanksgiving — a holiday that is centered around gratitude and on family time — has garnered backlash from some.

Source: Fortune

But the competition between retailers gets more intense every year, and some retailers continue to open on Thanksgiving.

Source: Fortune

The retail market is now at a point where, in order to stay afloat, stores have to compete with each other with bigger and better Black Friday sales each November.

Source: Fortune

Deals have gotten more and more appealing, discounted prices lower, and store hours longer and more exhaustive.

Source: Fortune

In 2013, Kmart announced that it would stay open for 41 hours straight beginning at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day …

Source: Fortune

… and Big Lots will be open on Thanksgiving this year starting at 7 a.m. until midnight.

Source: Best Black Friday

That's not to say that there hasn't been any pushback from businesses.

Source: USA Today

Stores like Academy, Costco, H&M, and Lowe's will remain closed this Thanksgiving.

Source: USA Today

And some stores, like Shoe Carnival and Stein Mart, have ceased operations on Thanksgiving after being open in previous seasons.

Source: Best Black Friday

With sales no longer confined to the 24-hour period on Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving shopping day has begun to decrease in popularity.

Source: Fortune

Last year, shoppers queuing at stores that have traditionally been crammed with people, like Best Buy and Target, were met with considerably thinner crowds.

Source: Business Insider

Fewer than 100 people were lined up to get inside this Target in Brooklyn on Black Friday in 2017.

Source: Business Insider

This Marshalls was mostly empty on Black Friday in 2017 …

Source: Business Insider

… as was this Bath & Body Works.

Source: Business Insider

Shoppers aren't going to stores like they used to …

… signaling that Black Friday as we know it is dying.

Source: Business Insider

Only 102 million people shopped at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday in 2015 compared to 147 million in 2012.

Source: The Balance

And in 2017, the number of people who shopped in-store on Black Friday and Thanksgiving dropped 4% from 2016.

Source: The Balance

But that doesn't mean that retailers are ruined by the drop in foot traffic …

… they have online shopping to partly thank for keeping profits turning.

Source: Business Insider

Last year, people spent $2.9 billion online on Thanksgiving Day.

Source: Business Insider

Finding deals online, from the safety and comfort of your turkey dinner coma, has rendered getting up early and shopping in-store, not to mention fighting hordes of holiday crowds, on Black Friday less appealing.

Source: Business Insider

"Is [Black Friday] the mayhem that it might have been eight or 10 years ago?" Walmart's US CEO Greg Foran asked The Wall Street Journal last year. "I think that world is gone."

Source: Business Insider, WSJ

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