A brief history of the magical Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

in Disney, Entertainment, Events, Television, Theme Parks, Travel, Uncategorized, Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Florida

For ninety years Macy’s magic mesmerized millions while ushering in the Christmas Season.  The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade brings a host of holiday acts, floats, marching bands, giant balloons, and, of dire importance to young viewers – the arrival of Santa Claus.

Larger than life balloons from the parade continue to cast their spell for scores of guests visiting Central Florida.  Continuing the excitement of this enigmatic experience every year since 2001, Universal Orlando Resort (owned by parade TV broadcaster NBC) ports the parade (redubbed, “Macy’s Holiday Parade”) to its park for annual arrivals of the infamous balloons and, ultimately, the Jolly Ol’ Elf himself.


The first Thanksgiving Day parade didn’t take place in New York City.  Instead, the floats, clowns, zoo animals and marching bands wound their way through the streets of Philadelphia as part of the Gimbels Department Store in 1920.  Lois Bamberger, liked the idea and soon followed suit in Newark, New Jersey with his own holiday marching magic.  Bamberger’s Department Store was acquired by Macy’s in 1922 and the parade was moved to New York City to become the very first Macy’s Christmas Parade two years later.

The 1924 parade was a grueling six miles long, and ended at Herald Square for Santa’s arrival and transition from the parade to his magical kingdom within the Macy’s Department store. Featured in the festivities were marching bands, fantastic floats, clowns and a menagerie of 5 animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo.  The zoo animals were given a break after a few years when giant balloon floats replaced them in 1927, which were crafted by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

LOOK! Up in the Sky . . .

Ever since the live zoo animals were replaced by helium filled, larger-than-life flying characters in 1927, they have been featured in every Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ever since.  In the early years of the parade, these were set free at the conclusion of the event. Today, the balloons are a bit smaller than those of earlier years. Superman (1966) was the largest ever. Since 1984 these have been manufactured by Raven Aerostar.

Felix the Cat, long believed to be the first float in the parade, actually appeared in 1931.  He was joined by Mickey Mouse a few years later. Mickey was joined by Donald in 1935, a year later.  Mighty Mouse flew the streets of Manhattan beginning in 1951.  Other iconic incarnations included Bullwinkle (1961), Underdog (1965), Superman (1940 & 1966), Astronaut Snoopy (1969 – to honor the Apollo moon landing), Kermit (1971), Big Bird (1988), Sonic (1993), and Buzz Lightyear (2008). This year Olaf and the Grinch will be added to the parade.

Safety first! While there have been three instances of these giant helium filled characters getting out of control, no one has lost their life in any of the accidents.  Now, if winds exceed 34 mph, the floating fantasies will not fly.

Fantastic Floats

Another festive feature of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the amazing floats.  Tom Turkey was added to the parade in 1971. Masters of the Universe and Rainbow Brite had their own floats in 1985. In 2005 the Polar Express and a 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney park magic could be seen gliding down the road. Universal Orlando Resort (2011) and Sea World (2013) have also been represented.

For 2017, be on the lookout for Sour Patch Kids’ (and their Parade Day Mischief float) and the Green Giant.  At the end of this seasonal spectacle, Santa Claus’ float brings the toy giver to Macy’s.

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