For more than 85 years, Macy’s department store in New York City has hosted its annual holiday parade, today called the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The first parade hosted by Macy’s hit the streets of New York in 1924. More than 250,000 people attended. Eight decades later, the annual event has more than three million spectators, as well as a large viewing audience on national television.
The first year. The 1924 Macy’s Christmas Parade was designed as a marketing ploy to entice shoppers to Macy’s department store in New York City. The parade featured store employees dressed in costume as clowns and other characters as well as four bands and animals from Central Park Zoo. Pulled by horses were three floats featuring children’s stories—The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, Little Miss Muffet and Red Riding Hood. The parade traveled from 145th Street and Convent Avenue to 34th and Broadway, the location of the Macy’s store. The final parade character was Santa Claus.
Early years. In 1927, the first large helium balloon debuted in the parade, replacing the live animals. The popular cartoon character Felix the Cat made its way down the parade route, only to be released into the sky at the end because the organizers did not have a plan as to how to deflate the giant balloon. Mickey Mouse debuted as a balloon in 1934. Since those early days, more than 100 famous characters have been depicted as Macy’s helium balloons. Floats were just as important as the balloons and, until 1939, were pulled by horses.
1942 to 1944. Due to World War II, there was a huge shortage of rubber and helium, two key components for the giant balloons featured in the annual parade. Macy’s donated its helium balloons to help with the rubber shortage. The years 1942 through 1944 have been the only ones the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been suspended. Macy’s is the country’s second largest helium consumer after the U.S. government.
National tradition. The return of the parade in 1945 brought out more than two million people, reports Time Magazine. The parade had its first local telecast in 1946 and then went national in 1947. The parade grew, with Macy’s wanting to improve the event each year—more bands joined the route, and the number of giant balloons increased each year. The Snoopy balloon, which debuted in 1968, has seen six changes, the most of any other.
The stars. Hollywood stars have appeared on floats since the early years. Parade participants include Hollywood legends such as Harpo Marx, Ginger Rogers, Jackie Gleason, Shirley Temple and Sammy Davis Jr. In 1962, baseball great Willie Mays was one of the first sports stars to be in the parade. From singers to actors to comedians and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, the parade has always showcased some of the country’s best talent. Its hosts have included Ed McMahon, Al Roker, Katie Couric, Willard Scott and Betty White.