Since 1924, Macy’s has held annual parades on Thanksgiving Day. First known as the “Macy’s Christmas Parade,” the name changed a few years later to the “Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
Now many onlookers crowd Manhattan’s streets each year to see Macy’s signature giant floats hover over busy streets.
Below are some fun facts about the parade, which draws millions each year, according to Macy’s:
1. It was originally a Christmas parade.
Macy’s has been at its current flagship location, at Broadway and 34th Street, since 1902. (The original store, incidentally, was about 20 blocks south, on Sixth Avenue near 14th Street.) Continuing expansion made the location what Macy’s called the “world’s largest store,” an entire city block with more than 1 million square feet of retail space.
In celebration, in 1924, employees organized a Christmas parade featuring “floats, bands, animals from the zoo and 10,000 onlookers,” according to a Macy’s history page. It also started way up at 145th Street, about 70 blocks north of where it begins in 2015. The parade concluded with Santa Claus and the unveiling of the store’s Christmas windows. Three years later, the Christmas Parade was renamed the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Macy’s didn’t invent the practice. Philadelphia has the oldest Thanksgiving Day parade: Its Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade, now the 6ABC – Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade, debuted in 1920.
2. Macy’s first animals weren’t filled with hot air.
The animals at the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924 weren’t oversized balloons. They were real elephants, camels and lions provided by the Central Park Zoo, escorted through New York City by 400 costumed Macy’s employees.
3. Macy’s first balloons were explosively good.
The balloon attractions debuted in 1927, inspired by a balloon float. Even then, they were massive — one was a 60-foot dinosaur — and, in those days, they had more to deal with than just high winds and crazy weather: Until 1938, an elevated train ran down Sixth Avenue.
Well-known characters have been part of the parade since that 1927 outing. Felix the Cat was there from the beginning, and Mickey Mouse joined in 1934, the same year that featured a balloon based on popular entertainer Eddie Cantor. “Peanuts” characters, especially Snoopy — who made his first appearance in 1968 — are regular visitors.
One tradition didn’t last long. The balloons were originally allowed to float away, and those who found them got a gift certificate from Macy’s.
4. Politicians thought a day for Thanksgiving was ridiculous.
Think today’s politicians are dark, ungrateful souls? During the 1800s, newspaper editor Sarah Hale wrote letters to five different presidents over three decades, trying to convince them to declare a national day of thanksgiving. Thomas Jefferson actually called it “the most ridiculous idea ever.” Undaunted, she continued until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln finally proclaimed the holiday as a way of uniting America after the Civil War.
5. The parade was first broadcast on the radio.
You had to use your imagination when the first broadcasts of the parade took place in 1932; they were on the radio. The parade was first televised in 1946 in New York and then nationally on NBC the next year.
NBC once again hosts the festivities this year with the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker. Coverage started at 9 a.m. ET.
It’s hard to keep things hidden on an island as cramped as Manhattan, and the Macy’s balloons are no exception. They’re inflated at a staging area at 77th Street and Central Park West, near the American Museum of Natural History. For many families, watching the balloons get ready is just as much a tradition as the parade itself.
The balloons are constructed at Macy’s Parade Studio in Moonachie, New Jersey.
7. The route has changed in recent years.
For years, the parade’s Midtown route went right down Broadway, Manhattan’s spine. But in 2009, the route was moved to Seventh Avenue because of new pedestrian plazas along Broadway. It was changed to Sixth Avenue in 2011.
8. It hasn’t always gone well.
It looks so nice on television, doesn’t it?
But late November in New York can be dicey. In 1957, a wet day got wetter for people near a Popeye balloon: The character’s hat filled with water and drenched paradegoers. The same thing happened in 1962 with a Donald Duck hat.
Superman once lost his arm to tree branches.
But the worst was probably 1997, a blustery day in the Big Apple. During that parade, winds reached more than 40 miles per hour, and the balloons were difficult to control.
9. It’s not the Turkey’s fault!
Overstuffed people have long blamed turkey as the cause of the legendary after-dinner food coma. Post-feast exhaustion actually results from stuffing down a week’s worth of carbohydrates in one sitting, enhanced by chugging that extra glass of wine to drown out Aunt Martha’s incessant rambling. Turkey Day cooks also know that getting up at 5 a.m. to start roasting the bird only exacerbates the need for a serious afternoon nap.
10. Black Friday for plumbers?
The day after Thanksgiving, isn’t just a banner day for retailers. According to Roto-Rooter, America’s largest plumbing service, it’s also the busiest day for plumbers. Apparently, all our feasting strains more than just our zippers. After all, those 736 million pounds of turkey have to end up somewhere, right?