Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: A Look Back at 89 Years of History

Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeNext week many of us will be in our jammies and gathered around our TVs excitedly watching the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year several new balloons and floats have been announced, and many of them are courting some controversy. PETA is officially calling for a protest of the parade over the float sponsored by Sea World, which activists claim treats whales poorly; Alec Baldwin and his wife are very active in this campaign. And vegetarian Joan Jett was recently asked to step down from being a celebrity participant on the South Dakota tourism float for not lining with the state’s meat-centric views.

Macy’s official statement concerning the protests says, “The parade has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate or other forms of advocacy.” Amy Kule, a parade executive, adds: “There is no controversy. Our goal is to entertain and that is their goal as well.” (By the way, Joan Jett will still be performing at the parade, she has just been moved to a different float. Macy’s has not yet announced which float.)

One of the best Thanksgivings I have ever experienced took place in 1994. I was a freshman at NYU and my mother decided to travel up to the city and join me for the holiday. It is the only time I have ever seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in person. If you haven’t experienced this exhilarating spectacle that is so completely unique to the Big Apple, I am going to suggest you put it on your bucket-list.

My mom and I were at the Macy’s Parade for the premiere of the Barney balloon. This means we were there for the Barney tragedy. Megan Singleton, in a roundup of balloon accidents, sums up the year with this: “1994: Barney tore his side on a lamppost and had to be removed from the parade with the help of knife-wielding officials, crying kids and cheering adults.” I mostly remember waving a lot. Every float that went by, every balloon handler, and every marching band was putting on a show just for us and I could not have been more excited.

Some interesting math for you: The parade is in it’s 89th year. The only years the nation went without the Parade were during World War II. That makes this year, 2013, the 87th parade. What began as a Christmas Parade in 1924 for the flagship department store in Manhattan evolved into something truly magical for Macy’s. For many of us, when we finally see Santa on the screen at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, we officially begin to embrace the Christmas season.

Over the years there have been numerous stand-out parade moments for me:
• 1985 – The year the Kermit balloon was punctured and, according to the Muppet Wiki, “carried for the rest of the parade by his green-clad frog handlers.”
• 1989 – The year Alf gave parade commentary and as the giant Garfield balloon filled our TV screens, he discussed how the cat could feed his entire home planet.

What are some of your favorite memories of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

  • History of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 1 of 15
    Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

    Our memories of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are so intertwined with the holiday that, for many of us, specific parades bring back a flood of remembrance of Turkey Day. 

  • The Early ’30’s 2 of 15

    The very first Macy's parade took place in 1924 and every year the event grew larger and larger. It wasn't until after 1935 that the annual parade changed its name from a Christmas parade to a Thanksgiving parade. (Santa has always been a part!)


    Mickey Mouse became a float in 1934.


    Image Credit: YouTube, YouTube

  • The Year: 1939 3 of 15

    I loved watching the video from this particular year of the parade. Uncle Sam and Superman were new balloons in the parade. The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz was also making his debut. 


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: 1941 4 of 15

    A Fish balloon bobbed along the streets and a Happy Hippo enjoyed its second year in the parade in 1941. An increase of creative floats began to happen. You can see a Humpty Dumpty float being followed by all the King's men.


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: 1954 5 of 15

    These images from the 1954 parade are from the 8mm camera of Michael Laca's father. That's Michael bottom left in the hat. (awwww!) He's been restoring his family's 8mm collection and this footage was among the gems he found. This was the first year for the Spaceman balloon to make an appearance.  


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: 1959 6 of 15

    In this footage from 1959 you can see Popeye, Spaceman, and Santa! What surprises me is just how low these balloons were to the streets. SO LOW. The previous year there was a helium shortage and the balloons in the parade were filled with air and then lifted and carried through the streets by cranes and trucks. 


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: ’69 7 of 15

    The big news in 1969 was the relocation of the parade studio to Hoboken, NJ. It was now housed in a former tootsie roll factory. The exciting balloons to soar this year were Superman and Underdog. Lorne Greene and Betty White were the much adored cohosts of the parade from 1962-1971.


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The 70’s 8 of 15

    The Rockettes have been a part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade tradition since 1957. The super popular Kermit the Frog balloon made its debut during the '70s. Ed McMahon co-hosted the parade for a decade (from 1971-1981).


    Image Credit: YouTube, YouTube

  • The Year: 1983 9 of 15

    I have no idea how any of us contained ourselves in 1983: Joey Lawrence AND The Care Bears?!! I vividly remember watching this parade on TV on Thanksgiving morning and being so excited about the Fraggle Rock performance.


    (Side note: Olive Oyl was the first female balloon ever featured in the Macy's parade. She debuted in 1982.)


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: 1987 10 of 15

    Nothing quite says ZOMG like a massive Cabbage Patch Kid next to Willard Scott. In 1987 The Cabbage Patch Kids joined up with the cast of Rags to Riches (I KNOW!!!) for a performance. This was also a year that Jim Henson and Kermit were given the Rollie Award for all of their years of service and dedication to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 


    Image Credit: YouTube, YouTube

  • The Year: 1993 11 of 15

    Two massive balloon destructions happened in 1993: Sonic the Hedgehog, making its parade debut, crashed into a light pole; and Happy Hippo had a horrible hiccup with a traffic light. 


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: 2003 12 of 15

    SUPER GROVER!! Oh yes, I was just all kinds of excited about this particular new balloon in 2003. 


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: 2007 13 of 15

    Hello Kitty's first year in the parade was 2007. Just one year earlier marked the first time we all saw the Pikachu balloon and had to explain to our grandmother what a "Pikachu" was.


    Image Credit: YouTube

  • The Year: 2008 14 of 15

    Sure, some of you may only remember 2008 as the year a Smurf first bobbled through the Macy's Parade, but the rest of us are still laughing because 2008 was the year the nation got Rick Rolled on national TV on Thanksgiving morning!


    Image Credit: YouTube, YouTube

  • The Year: 2013 15 of 15

    This year we can expect three new balloons and several new floats! Macy's has created a really fun interactive website for the parade this year that includes the route, the lineup, and games.

    The new balloons: The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary, Finn and Jake, and Toothless the Dragon

    The new floats: Dreidel, The Enchanting World of Lindt Chocolate, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Windows to the World at Sea, Uncle Sam's Top Hat by Drake's, SeaWorld Sea of Surprises, and Viking Confetti Catapult


    Image Credit: YouTube

Image Credit: Jon Harder

Resources: Time: a brief history of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: The Early Years, Macy’s Parade Information 2013

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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