What Was the First Balloon to Be Featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a Thanksgiving tradition in the United States that’s been around for almost 100 years. Every year, it features massive balloons that float down Sixth Avenue and toward Central Park. Year after year, people line up to watch these iconic balloons — but it all started with one iconic float.

Macy’s started its iconic parade in 1924. | Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The parade got its start in 1924

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was first launched in 1924 — this year marks the parade’s 92nd year. (The parade was canceled for a few years during World War II.) According to People, the parade originally got its start when a group of immigrants wanted to express their gratitude for being able to live in the United States. As a result, they had a small parade featuring animals from the Central Park Zoo. And that marked the first year of a brand new tradition.

There are more than two-dozen balloons in the parade — and Felix the Cat came first

Today, the most well-known parts of the parade are the more than two dozen balloons that float high above the thousands of people who park themselves on the sides of New York City streets to catch a glimpse. But the balloons weren’t always the parade’s main feature. When it got its start, there were no balloons at all — only live animals, such as camels and lions. The first balloon to appear in the parade was Felix the Cat, which made its debut in 1927. In time, the parade switched from real animals to balloon characters, and it all started with Felix. But the cat was only around for a short while, and by the time World War II came around, Felix was donated to the war effort for his rubber. Felix was brought back for one year in 2016, but the cat hasn’t reappeared since. There’s no telling whether or not he’ll make another appearance down the road (maybe for the 100th anniversary?).

It’s not easy to create a balloon. In fact, Business Insider reported it takes anywhere from four to nine months for the process from start to finish. The balloons start out as a rough sketch, which is made from looking at several images of the character, usually in books. Then, they sketch is brought to the floor of the Macy’s warehouse, located in New Jersey, where they begin to come to life. The materials used do vary but often include thicker materials, such as styrofoam and aluminum.

Felix the Cat
Macy’s released this model of their 2016 “Felix the Cat” balloon before unveiling the real balloon at the parade. | Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Macy’s Parade

It takes a full 365 days to make the parade happen

The parade isn’t something that happens overnight, or even in a few months’ time. It takes a full year for the event to come together. Employees work regular hours every day, but starting in September, those hours pick up. Business Insider reported the weekday hours are 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the crew works weekends, too.

But Macy’s has never disclosed the cost of the event

One thing Macy’s has never come clean about with their parade is its cost. The company stays quiet about how much they spend on the parade, but some experts suggest such an event must cost millions of dollars. Between closing down the streets, hiring employees, setting up the parade, designing the floats, and more, the company definitely has to spend a pretty penny to get the event to be everything it wants. However, when reporters have asked in the past what the cost of production for the parade is, Macy’s has always declined to comment.

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