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In 1924, the parade (originally known as the Macy’s Christmas Parade and later the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade) was staged by the store. Employees and professional entertainers marched from 145th Street in Harlem to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street dressed in vibrant costumes. There were floats, professional bands and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo.At the end of that first parade, as has been the case with every parade since, Santa Clauswas welcomed into Herald Square. At this first parade, however, the Jolly Old Elf was enthroned on the Macy’s balcony at the 34th Street store entrance, where he was then “crowned” “King of the Kiddies.” With an audience of over a quarter of a million people, the parade was such a success that Macy’s declared it would become an annual event.
Anthony “Tony” Frederick Sarg loved to work with marionettes from an early age. After moving to London to start his own marionette business, Sarg moved to New York City to perform with his puppets on the street. Macy’s heard about Sarg’s talents and asked him to design a window display of a parade for the store. Sarg’s large animal-shaped balloons, produced by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, replaced the live animals in 1927 when the Felix the Catballoon made its debut. Felix was filled with air, but by the next year, helium was used to fill the expanding cast of balloons.
At the finale of the 1928 parade, the balloons were released into the sky where they unexpectedly burst. The following year they were redesigned with safety valves to allow them to float for a few days. Address labels were sewn into them, so that whoever found and mailed back the discarded balloon received a gift from Macy’s
Through the 1930s, the Parade continued to grow, with crowds of over 1 million lining the parade route in 1933. The first Mickey Mouse balloon entered the parade in 1934. The annual festivities were broadcast on local New York radio from 1932 through 1941, and resumed in 1945 through 1951.
The parade was suspended 1942–1944 during World War II, owing to the need for rubber and helium in the war effort. The parade resumed in 1945 using the route that it followed until 2008. The parade became a permanent part of American culture after being prominently featured in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, which shows actual footage of the 1946 festivities. The event was first broadcast on network television in 1948 (see below). By this point the event, and Macy’s sponsorship of it, were sufficiently well-known to give rise to the colloquialism “Macy’s Day Parade”.
Macy’s also sponsors the smaller Celebrate the Season Parade in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, held two days after the main event. Other cities in the US also have parades on Thanksgiving, but they are not run by Macy’s. The nation’s oldest Thanksgiving parade (the Gimbels parade, now known as 6abc-IKEA) was first held in Philadelphia in 1920. Other cities include the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade of Chicago, Illinois and parades in Plymouth, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; and Fountain Hills, Arizona. A parade is also held at the two U.S. Disney theme parks. There is even a 2nd Thanksgiving balloon parade within the New York metropolitan area, the UBS balloon parade in Stamford, CT, 30 miles away. This parade is held the Sunday before Thanksgiving to not compete with the New York parade and usually does not duplicate any balloon characters.
The classic “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” logo (seen on right) was, with one exception, last used in 2005. For 2006 a special variant of the logo was used. Every year since a new logo has been used for each parade. The Logos however are seen rarely, if at all, on television as NBC has used its own logo with the word “Macy’s” in script and “Thanksgiving Day Parade” in a bold font. The logos are assumed to be for Macy’s use only, such as on the Grandstand tickets and the ID badges worn by parade staff. The Jackets worn by parade staff still bear the original classic parade logo, this being the only place where that logo can be found.
New safety measures were incorporated in 2006 to prevent accidents and balloon related injuries. One measure taken was installation of wind measurement devices to alert parade organizers to any unsafe conditions that could cause the balloons to behave erratically. Also, parade officials implemented a measure to keep the balloons closer to the ground during windy conditions. If wind speeds are forecast to be higher than 34 miles per hour, all balloons are removed from the parade.
In 2007, the journal Puppetry International published a first person account of being a balloon handler
If you are planning to see the parade this year please visit NYCTourist.com tips on getting just the right spot.
Compiled By: Josh Martin