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December 17, 2020

Vintage Photographs of the Biggest Holiday Shopping Season at Macy’s in 1948

Even though the term Black Friday did not come into wide use until the 1980s, images of rowdy stampedes of eager shoppers have become typical on the day after Thanksgiving. Such a major event on the American retail calendar, the buzzing atmosphere of the biggest holiday shopping season was vividly shown through images of preparations at Macy’s – then the world’s biggest department store – for the 1948 occasion, which involved 14,000 employees to get 400,000 items ready for 250,000 anxious customers.

“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,” is how LIFE magazine describe the 1948 season at the store. 

Take a look through 18 black and white photographs taken by LIFE photographer Nina Leen:

An employee clearing the package chute with his body.
An employee plowing through a pile of costume pearl necklaces that she will sell.
Scene outside Macy's during the biggest holiday shopping season.
People gathering in the entrance.
Shoppers waiting to be allowed on the floor.
The sales floor.
Customers crowding around a counter of imitation pearls.
A customer examining a string of pearls.
A child with her doll.
Group of Santa Claus mascots sitting inside the department store.
Employees in the Shopping Service department assembling an order for a customer.
Employees refunding the money to customers who have brought back their merchandise.
Shoppers clamoring for coveted items.
Woman carrying shopping boxes in the course of the Macy's caters to customers.
A woman looking at her reflection in the mirror in front of a young salesman.
Women trying on furs in the dressing room.
Employees having their temperature taken in the store's hospital.
An employee cleaning up piles of debris after the Christmas shopping rush.


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