The History of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Elephants, Deflating Balloons and Santa!
See who joined the parade — and who got retired — throughout its 94-year history
#TBT: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
What started off as a promotional stunt for the department store has become a national event, and unofficial kickoff of the holiday season.
This year marks the 94th annual parade — although the tradition is older than that.
The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was held in 1924, after the store had taken over an entire block of midtown Manhattan. To celebrate the opening of the “World’s Largest Store,” Macy’s decided to hold a parade and hopefully start customers thinking about their Christmas shopping.
Take a stroll down memory lane with these classic photos.
Large balloons began appearing in the parade in 1927. A not-too-ferocious dragon caught the fancy of the crowd in this photo from 1931.
The animal-shaped balloons were attached with string and paraded through New York City. At the end of the 1928 parade, the balloons were released into the sky, where they burst.
The following years, Macy’s employees sewed address labels into the balloons. Whoever found the burst balloons could mail them back to Macy’s and receive a reward.
The parade’s balloons have often portrayed popular characters. Mickey Mouse first appeared in 1934. Other characters who joined include Kermit the Frog, Barney, and Garfield. The parade continually introduces new characters as they become popular.
The parade was first broadcast locally in 1946. The following year, NBC began broadcasting the parade to a national audience.
The parade has always including marching bands as attractions, but the number of participants has consistently grown. In 2016, 12 bands marched in the parade, including the Macy’s Great American Marching Band with members representing all 50 states.
Zoo animals eventually proved themselves to be unreliable additions to the parade. Slowly, parade organizers began cutting out live animals from the show and adding character balloons. The floats became more and more elaborate and the length of the parade grew.
The first parade route started in Harlem on 145th Street, marching the six miles down to the Macy’s store on 34th Street.
Punctured before the parade, Donald Duck once had a limp foot.
The Rockettes joined the parade in 1957. They are traditionally one of the last acts to perform.
One thing that has remained the same for over 90 years is the grand finale: Santa Claus. At the end of the parade, Father Christmas sits outside of Macy’s and welcomes customers to the holiday shopping season.
NBC announcer Joe Garagiola with spectators. Celebrities, musicians and actors have been a part of the parade’s history. Some of the most iconic to make appearances include Ginger Rogers, Sammy Davis, Jr., and more recently, Mariah Carey.
Weeble deflated in the 1976 parade, as the golden anniversary show proved to be a real chiller at 38 degrees in Times Square.
Mickey Mouse took in Broadway's sights, including a crowd of more than 1 million, at the 55th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
A massive Garfield floated through the streets in 1987, but during World War II (1942-44), the parade was canceled and rubber from the balloons was donated to the war effort.