Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Why is today called Black Friday?

Today is Black Friday, the ominous name for one of the biggest shopping days on planet Earth.

Black Friday has now become a global phenomenon which marches to the sweet tune of rampant capitalism.

It’s bargains galore for the brave. The Day of Deals. Prices are slashed by up to 50 per cent as global retailers encourage a pre-Christmas shopping frenzy.


But, why black?

The origins can be traced back to Philadelphia police in the 1960s. They called it a black day, feared and dreaded by law enforcement, public transport employees, retail workers and taxi drivers; a day the streets and department stores were noir de monde, swarming with people aggressively hunting for their deals. Here’s why they call it Black Friday (not recommended for those with a weak heart).

Another popular, but unproven theory about the origin of the name is that manufacturers and stores operate in the red (debt) all the financial year up until Black Friday when they finally go into the black (profit).

The original Black Friday dates back to September 24, 1869. It refers to an extraordinary gold heist that duped US President Ulysses S. Grant, and led to a collapse of the U.S. gold market and an economic crash.

Two get-rich-quick scoundrels, Jay Gould, the Gordon Gecko of his day, and Jim Fisk, together set up an elaborate plan to control the US gold market. They recruited a high profile financier named Abel Rathbone Corbin who was married to the President’s sister. His job was to get the ear of the President and Treasury and collect secret inside information about government gold trading. The plan was to gradually corner the gold market until the price was high enough and then sell-off at enormous profit.

Gould, (pictured above), also bought the Government's assistant Treasurer in New York, Daniel Butterfield, who was in charge of gold sales. Gould gave Butterfield $10,000 (his annual salary was $8000), which he later claimed in court was an interest-free loan.

Over time, the President became suspicious of Corbin's sudden interest in the gold market. When he discovered a letter from his sister to his wife discussing the matter, he knew he was surrounded by traitors. The furious President swiftly retaliated and ordered the sale of $4,000,000 in government gold. The price of gold and then Wall Street plummeted on Black Friday.

This was the scene (below) at the Gold Reserve on Black Friday.

Gould, known as the "Mephistopheles of Wall Street," not only managed to sell his considerable gold reserves before the crash, but also evade conviction. Five years later, he controlled the Union Pacific Railroad, the Western Union Telegraph Company and the Manhattan Elevated Railroad.




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