People.com Entertainment TV Why the Macy's Balloons Used to Just Fly Away and More Fun Facts About the Big Parade In its 94th year, the parade has one pretty crazy history By Kate Hogan Kate Hogan Instagram Twitter Kate Hogan is Director of Digital Specials and Features at PEOPLE. In her 14 years at the brand, she has covered everything from pets and babies to style and Sexiest Man Alive, interviewing celebrities including Céline Dion, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Evans. Currently, she oversees the creation of photo galleries that complement breaking news and major PEOPLE moments like The Beautiful Issue and 100 Reasons to Love America. She has offered expert celebrity commentary on Good Morning America and Access Hollywood. Before joining PEOPLE in 2008, Kate was an editorial assistant at Morris Visitor Publications. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication and resides outside of Chicago with her husband and three kids. People Editorial Guidelines Updated on November 25, 2020 04:48 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Courtesy Rizzoli The year was 1924; the place, New York City. A group of animals from the Central Park Zoo marched down a street in Harlem accompanied by a very special group of people: a handful of immigrant Macy’s employees, who wanted to express how thankful they were for living in the United States that year. And thus, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was born. Though this year will be a big blowout virtual event, with A-list stars, Broadway performances and millions of spectators in their living rooms to watch, the parade had humble beginnings, outlined in the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: A New York City Holiday Tradition, by former PEOPLE editor Stephen M. Silverman. Want to impress your Thanksgiving guests with some supercool facts about the parade, now in its 94th year? We’ve got you covered. The first-ever balloon was Felix the Cat The “biggest star of his time,” as Silverman tells PEOPLE, Felix debuted in 1927. He was filled with air and not helium, however, so instead of soaring above the New York City streets, he was held up on stilts. To commemorate the parade’s 90th year last Thanksgiving Day, Felix made a triumphant return — filled only with air and carried on stilts. Courtesy Rizzoli A rubber shortage put the parade on hold For a few years during World War II, Macy’s canceled the event, in large part because there wasn’t enough rubber or helium to create and inflate the balloons. Macy’s wasn’t the first department store to have a parade That honor would go to Gimbels, a now-defunct Philadelphia-based chain that launched its own parade one year before Macy’s. The balloons used to be released at the end of the route — but there’s a good reason that stopped Seriously. “In the early years, they would untether them, and they would fly away and invariably end up somewhere on Long Island,” Silverman recounts. “If you found one, you could claim a reward.” The problem? Aside from the environmental toll, people would rip the balloons apart and bring in small pieces in hopes of earning said reward. The tradition ultimately came to an end when one loose balloon became entangled in the propeller of a small plane, nearly taking it down. “The pilot said she had something extra-special to be thankful for that Thanksgiving,” Silverman says. These days, the balloons are simply deflated, crated and stored in New Jersey once the parade ends. Courtesy Rizzoli Not all balloons are created equal While square balloons present the biggest challenges — “Any pointed parts are difficult to design, inflate and balance,” Silverman says — round balloons can be tricky, too: “It actually took them a while to get Olive Oyl well balanced,” he shares. What finally made it work? “They put Sweet Pea in her arms.” And if a balloon is sporting an accessory, look out! One year, so much rainwater collected in Popeye’s cap that it spilled out and drenched the crowd as the balloon made a tight turn. Bonus: How much do you think the parade costs? That one we’ll never know, Silverman says. “Macy’s won’t disclose that,” he explains. “As they say, it’s a gift to the city, and as with any gift, you don’t leave the price tag on.” Catch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 26 at 9 a.m. ET on NBC.