Black Friday

noun
Updated on: 26 Jul 2017

Definition of Black Friday

US

  1. :  the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day that is considered by retailers to mark the beginning of the holiday shopping season The origin of Black Friday in this sense is not known for certain. The day was allegedly so named either in reference to traffic congestion in central cities on the day after Thanksgiving or to the supposed fact that retailers' accounts shifted from red to black with the beginning of the shopping season.

First Known Use of black friday

1961


Financial Definition of BLACK FRIDAY

Black Friday

What It Is

In the investing world, Black Friday refers to the gold crisis of September 24, 1869. It sometimes also refers to the New York Stock Exchange crash of September 19, 1873.

In the retail world, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving (which is always on a Thursday). The day marks the advent of the holiday shopping season and the point at which most retailers begin making profits (also known as going in the black).

How It Works

The Black Friday of 1869 was the result of a government scandal that shook the core of Ulysses S. Grant's presidency. In his inaugural address in January 1869, Grant demonstrated his commitment to gold-backed currency by insisting on repaying the war bond debt from the Civil War with gold. He also planned to use gold to purchase dollars from citizens at a discount and replacing those dollars with gold-backed currency.

Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, two financiers already infamous for their involvement in a bribery and fraud scandal surrounding the Erie Railroad, were attempting to corner the gold market at the time by driving the price of gold up and then selling it all for huge profits. Gould and Fisk heard of Grant's plan to sell gold and knew their scheme would not work (the increased supply of gold in the markets would keep the price too low). So to prevent the government sale, Gould and Fisk enlisted the help of Grant's brother-in-law, Abel Rathbone Corbin. The three met Grant at several social gatherings and attempted to persuade him that his monetary policy was a mistake. Corbin also successfully urged Grant to name General Daniel Butterfield as the assistant treasurer of the United States. Butterfield was responsible for handling the government's gold sales, and he agreed to give Gould, Fisk, and Corbin advance notice of when the government was going to sell gold if they would pay him in return.

Assuming that their efforts to stop the government's gold sale were successful (and widely advertising that they were), Gould and Fisk bought as much gold as they could on September 20, 1869, and prices rose by 20%.

However, Grant was suspicious of his brother-in-law's interest in the gold markets and later found a letter from his sister to First Lady Julia Grant about the entire matter. Furious, Grant ordered Corbin to put an end to his scheme and then quietly ordered a government sale of $4 million of gold.

When the government gold hit the market on September 24, 1869, the price fell and panic ensued. Many investors had purchased gold on margin and others were locked into purchase contracts. When the price fell, not only did these investors face financial disaster, but other commodity prices destabilized, foreign trade was nearly halted (because it was conducted in gold), and the stock market nearly came to a halt. Abel Corbin lost significantly, but Gould sold his gold before the market fell and went on the control the Western Union Telegraph Company and the Manhattan Elevated Railroad. Butterfield was fired following a Congressional investigation, and Jim Fisk was shot dead by another financier, Edward Stokes, in 1872, after the two got into an argument over money and Broadway showgirl.

Why It Matters

Over time, the term has come to describe any Friday on which a terrible event occurs.


Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up Black Friday? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!