By Erin Keating
This Thanksgiving, the iconic Macy’s Day Parade will celebrate its ninetieth anniversary. The first parade was held on Nov. 27, 1924, exactly ninety years before we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Surprisingly, the parade was originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, because, although it was celebrated on Thanksgiving, it was a marketing strategy to get shoppers excited for Christmas. Since the economy was thriving in the mid-twenties, especially for department stores like Macy’s, the parade was designed as Macy’s “gift to the city,” as seen in a History Channel special on the event. It was not until 1927 that the name officially changed to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade—the same year that Felix the Cat was the first balloon featured in the parade.
The parade route originally spanned six miles and travelled from 145th Street to the Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street, which has since been shortened to just over two and a half miles. Despite the original lengthy parade route, the parade line-up was only two blocks long, although it grew in size as the parade progressed because excited spectators joined the parade route and marched behind Santa’s sleigh. The first parade had such a large turnout that in the next day’s paper Macy’s told New York City, “to keep next Thanksgiving free on their calendars because the parade was going to be an annual event,” according to the History Channel.
According to Business Insider, the original parade consisted of Macy’s employees—many dressed as clowns, animals from the Central Park Zoo, and parade floats pulled by horses. Balloons were not used in the parade until 1927 and replaced the live animals. Between 1927 and 1932, the balloons were released after the parade, which was possible due to their small size, and floated over the city. Macy’s offered a fifty dollar reward for anyone who brought one of the deflated parade balloons to the store.
It is estimated that 250,000 people lined the streets of New York City to watch the very first Macy’s Day Parade, seemingly small compared to the 3.5 million who attend today not including the 50 million viewers who watch the live broadcast of the parade each year. The telecasts aired on both CBS and NBC have been broadcasted since 1948. Although the original telecasts were only an hour long, coverage of the parade is now a three hour long extravaganza. Modern popular features of the parade include Broadway performances, the Rockettes, and other celebrities. This Thanksgiving, when you watch the iconic celebration on television with your family, remember the humble beginnings this epic parade had as an event run by Macy’s employees to spread the holiday spirit.
Picture of the Felix the Cat balloon from 1927 provided by Smithsonian Magazine
Picture of balloons in the 2012 Macy’s Day Parade provided by New York Daily News