Did you know it takes five months to create one of the parade's iconic balloons?

By Gillian Telling
November 24, 2016 08:30 AM
Credit: WireImage

It’s another Turkey Day, but this year is going to look a little different.

The popular event, which takes place annually on the November holiday, will be mostly virtual amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sept. 14.

"It will be a different kind of event. They’re reinventing the event for this moment in history, and you’ll be able to feel the spirit and the joy of that day on television, online," he said. "Not a live parade but something that will really give us that warmth and that great feeling we have on Thanksgiving Day."

Macy's said the upcoming 94th edition of the parade on Nov. 26 will be staged similarly to its Fourth of July fireworks show, and will air on NBC from 9 a.m. to noon EST.

Although fans may not have anticipated this year's pandemic, there are a few other things many may not know about the famous parade. Executive Parade Producer Amy Kule let us in on a few more things you never knew about the high-flying characters from the annual event.

1. The first parade didn’t even have balloons.

Instead, the 1924 event featured live animals, including lions and camels. The first ever “character balloon” was Felix the Cat, who made his debut in the 1927 parade.

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2. Creating a balloon is roughly a five-month process.

“There are a lot of different stages, and it depends on how intricate a balloon is,” says Kule. “A round one with eyes and mouth is easy, but a Troll balloon with four characters takes a lot of engineering to bring to life. About five months is the average time.”

3. Macy’s owns every single balloon.

They aren’t rented or outsourced, but made by hand in the official Macy’s parade studio in New Jersey. ‘We’ve got an incredible studio where we design, build and engineer each of the balloons,” says Kule. “It’s a big beautiful space that allows us to inflate the balloons. It’s also where we build the floats, and it houses all the costumes everyone will wear in the parade. It’s actually a magical space.”

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4. They didn’t use helium at first.

The original balloons were supported by poles, and weren’t inflated with helium until 1928. In 2016, to celebrate the 90th parade, there was an exact replica of the 1927 Felix the Cat balloon that was walked down the streets supported by handlers holding poles.

5. A balloon has never broken free — though they used to set them loose.

“That’s a fun fantasy!” says Kule, when asked whether any have escaped into the air. “But they are very well secured. We actually used to let them go at the end of the parade, but then we decided we should keep them so we could reuse them. It also became a safety issue. But up until 1931, if you found one in your yard, you could bring the tag to Macy’s a receive a special gift.”

6. The first female balloon flew in 1929, then not again until the ’80s.

“The first female was Mrs. Katzenjammer from an old American comic who flew in 1929, but it wasn’t until the ’80s that women flew again, when we had Olive Oyl in 1982, and Raggedy Ann in 1984,” says Kule.

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7. Walt Disney himself worked on the first Mickey Mouse balloon.

“The first time Mickey flew was in 1934, and we designed him with Walt Disney,” says Kule. “We’ve had four versions of Mickey since, but we haven’t seen him fly in about seven years.”

8. SpongeBob is no easy balloon.

“Balloons typically want to be round,” Kule says. “When you have a square balloon it’s generally difficult because there are so many handling ropes in order to keep the square shape. So we added a Christmas hat last time to give him better lift.”  (For each balloon, there are anywhere from 45 to 70 handlers.)

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9. Snoopy made way for Charlie Brown last year.

“Snoopy has been in the parade in seven different forms since 1968, but we haven’t seen Charlie Brown since 2002,” says Kule. Last year, he replaced Snoopy — and was determined to fly his kite, which was tangled around him.

10. The balloons may be set free again in the future.

“I do hope to let them go up in the air again in 2026, to celebrate the 100th parade!” says Kule.