The Largest Parade In The World
On Thanksgiving morning, people all over the country wake up, turn on their TVs and tune into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It doesn't matter how old you are, this annual tradition makes everyone feel like a little kid. Click through to see some of the most iconic photos of floats and balloons from every decade, and spoiler alert: get your milk and cookies ready for the big guy at the end.
A Little Macy's History
Macy's was founded in the mid-1800s by Rowland Hussey Macy as a dry goods store. Mr. Macy learned early on that the way to draw customers into his store was by creating exciting displays, exhibits, and events. In fact, the flagship store on 34th has always brought in customers with their elaborate Christmas window displays, which make their annual debut before the Parade.
In 1924, the very first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade took place in Manhattan. More than 250,000 people lined the streets to watch floats, live animals, professional bands, and vibrantly dressed marchers. The parade was so incredible that Macy's decided they would put it on annually. From 1924 until the 1970s, the only parade floats were Santa's Sleigh and Little Miss Muffet.
More than a million people lined the streets to watch the parade in 1933. During the '30s, Macy's introduced a number of iconic balloons, including Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Uncle Sam, The Tin Man, Pinocchio, and Santa Claus. The balloons were released into the air at the end and people who recovered and returned them to Macy's would get store gift cards.
From 1942 to 1944, the Parade was suspended because of World War II. It resumed in 1945 and became a worldwide phenomenon in 1947 after it was featured in "Miracle on 34th Street." 1948 also marked the first year that the Parade was broadcast on television.
The Parade has always subtly reflected the nationwide and worldwide news, and it was never more obvious than in the 1950s. In 1954, the Spaceman balloon made its debut, marking the beginning of America's fascination with space travel and the early years of the Space Race. In 1952, NBC began nationally televising the Parade.
In the 1960s, the Parade continued growing, and a number of iconic balloons were introduced including Bullwinkle, Dino, Linus, Underdog, Smokey Bear, and Aviator Snoopy. In 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated just days before the Parade–Macy's didn't know if they should cancel, but the Kennedy family confirmed that the show must go on. This photo, taken in 1966, shows the Radio City Rockettes performing a routine, which has become a welcome tradition.
In the 1970s, Macy's introduced the happy face balloon and Kermit the Frog, among others. The 70s marked the first time new floats were introduced since 1924; these included Tom Turkey and Sesame Street. The '70s also saw a surge of Broadway performances.
In the 1980s, there were a lot of new balloon introductions, most of them references to pop culture. They included: Olive Oyl, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, Raggedy Ann, Garfield, Betty Boop, Baby Shamu, Humpty Dumpty, Spider-Man, Ronald McDonald, Big Bird, Pink Panther, Woodstock, and Bugs Bunny. The '80s were bigger and bolder than ever, with the balloons and floats becoming even larger and more detailed.
The '90s also saw a lot of pop culture balloon additions. Bart Simpson, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Babar the Elephant, Beethoven the dog, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Cat in the Hat, Barney the Dinosaur, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Peter Rabbit, the Rugrats, Arthur, Babe the Pig, Blue (from Blue's Clues), and the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee all made their first appearances in the '90s. The 1990s were also a troublesome time for the balloons, which injured multiple people. In 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog balloon crashed into a lamppost and injured a police officer and a child. In 1997, the six-story Cat in the Hat balloon was pushed into a lamppost by heavy winds; falling debris injured four people.
As the Parade entered the 21st century, more and more balloons were introduced every year, becoming even more futuristic. Some of the most iconic include Curious George, Pikachu, Charlie Brown, SpongeBob SquarePants, Scooby-Doo, Dora the Explorer, Shrek, Smurf, Buzz Lightyear, Horton the Elephant, and the Pillsbury Doughboy. The 2000s also saw a huge increase in the number of floats. Some of the most recognizable were Bob the Builder, Lego, Big Comfy Couch, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Polar Express, Walt Disney World, Barbie, and Mother Goose. In 2004, the very first "Balloonicles" were introduced — these are self-powered balloon vehicles. In 2009, the Parade Route changed for the first time since the 1930s, eliminating Broadway completely.
Some of the most recent character balloons have included The Elf on the Shelf, How to Train Your Dragon's Toothless, Thomas the Tank Engine, Paddington Bear, Trolls, Olaf, and The Grinch. The most iconic recent floats include Despicable Me, Cirque du Soleil, Cracker Jack, Hallmark Channel, and Girl Scouts of the USA. 2012 saw another Parade route change, bypassing Times Square.
Santa Claus Is in the House
In what has become tradition, Santa's Sleigh has been the final float, ushering in the holiday season. It's 60 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 3-1/2 stories tall!
Tom Turkey's Legacy
Even during the hardest times–the Depression, the assassination of JFK, and the aftermath of 9/11– the Parade has been an exuberant display of happiness. And Tom Turkey has always led the way.
Macy's Celebrates the Holidays
The Parade isn't the only way Macy's celebrates the holiday season– in fact, they have numerous holiday events and activities, both for kids and adults.
Macy's Holiday Window Displays
At the Macy's on 34th, the store is known for its intricate window displays. People travel from all over to the world to see these amazing works of art.
Outside the flagship store, Macy's displays various holiday- and winter-themed decorations. From blow-ups, to Christmas trees, to glittering string lights, they don't hold back when it comes to the holidays.
Santa Meets Kids
Inside the store, Santa Claus greets children with a grin, which sometimes makes children cry but always makes for a great photo, particularly many years later.
2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
This year's Parade will take place on Thursday, November 22. Make sure to tune in to NBC to watch all the festivities.
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