‘Black Friday’ at Macy’s, 1948

by Ellie Seymour

christmas shopping at Macy's 1948

If I could time travel in New York it would be to the 1940s. Somehow all the black and white photos from the era manage to make even the most horrendous of situations look glamorous and romantic – like these ones of Black Friday at Macy’s, 1948, by Nina Leen for LIFE Magazine.

Although it wasn’t technically called Black Friday back then, the day after Thanksgiving has always been a big event on the American retail calendar, and in 1948, Macy’s – at one million square feet – was the biggest store in the world which meant prepping for the holiday season was a military operation involving 14,000 staff, 400,000 items and 250,000 shoppers. Yikes!

Christmas shopping at Macy's in 1948

Jane Pickens leads 9,000 Macy’s employees in ‘Jingle Bells’ during giant rally designed to whip up fever of salesmanship for the Christmas rush


black friday at macy's 1948

Holiday shoppers line the sidewalk outside the store waiting for the doors to open


“Planning entailed both logistical and motivational efforts. At a giant pep rally, the morale of staff members was lifted by a harmonious rendition of “Jingle Bells.” Telephone operators prepared to respond to as many as six questions per minute. Plainclothes employee detectives trained to spot shoplifters from among the hordes. And clerks readied themselves to handle fluid pricing on that year’s hottest items—from striped pajamas to “simulated” pearls to Macy’s house-brand Scotch—which fluctuated as many as five times per day as reports of competitors’ pricing came in.”


black friday at macy's 1948

Shoppers make their way into the store


black friday at macy's 1948

Bulletin board lists price changes made as a result of comparison shopping


black friday at macy's 1948

Shoppers compete for coats!


black friday at macy's 1948

This is how many pearls salesgirl Janet Steurer sells in one day


black friday at macy's 1948

A customer examines a string of pearls


black friday at macy's 1948

Santa Claus impersonators


Black friday macy's 1948

The sales floor at Macy’s is crowded with people and Christmas decorations


black friday at macy's 1948

Women try on furs in the Macy’s dressing room


black friday at macy's 1948

Comparison shoppers buy in competing stores, bring back merchandise priced under Macy’s. Macy’s then lowers prices to undersell competition


black friday macy's 1948

The Macy’s hospital treated 65,000 patients a year. This is usual Monday morning line up having temperatures taken. The lineup is longer after big sales days


A pageant is formed for the store’s thousands of employees before the holiday rush

A pageant is formed for the store’s thousands of employees before the holiday rush


black friday at macy's 1948

The mess in the wake of a major sale day


(Photos via here.)

Psst! Vintage Thanksgiving menus from New York’s legendary hotels.

One Comment


Somehow black and white pictures of this era seem to capture the excitement of the occasion perfectly. The New Yorkers certainly know how to do the run up to Christmas! Thanks for this interesting historic article and the linked historic hotel Thanksgiving menus!


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