When Was the First Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a staple in United States holiday traditions. And, as one of the oldest Thanksgiving parades in the country, many want to know: When was the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Up ahead, we take a closer look at the history of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, including when it started and how its giant balloons became a staple in the festivities.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is 92 years old. | Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was in 1924

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade made its debut in 1924 with over 250,000 people lined up to watch. The parade has always included Santa Claus (during the first parade, he sat on a throne on the balcony of Macy’s 34th Street store entrance) and featured floats, performers, and other attractions.

It once featured live zoo animals

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn’t always a balloon spectacular. For the first three years of its existence, the parade features live zoo animals from Central Park Zoo.

Macy’s balloons replaced the zoo animals in 1927

It’s hard to picture Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade without the giant, skyscraper-like balloons. After just three years of showcasing zoo animals, the department store switched up the attraction and introduced some of the giant balloons we associate the parade with today.

Felix the Cat was the first giant balloon

Speaking of the first balloons, according to several reports, the first giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was Felix the Cat. However, some sources argue that the cat balloon actually made its debut in 1931, which doesn’t exactly line up with the 1927 balloon introduction. Regardless of the year, it was one of the first characters on the parade route.

They used to let the balloons float away after the festivities

Today, the Macy’s balloon inflation is a big deal. And, after the parade route, each balloon is deflated and packed up for next year’s festivities. But, that wasn’t always the case. When the balloons were first introduced, Macy’s would let them go in the sky after the parade. After the 1928 parade, the balloons accidentally burst, which caused for safety alarm. In 1929, the balloons were redesigned with special technology that allowed them to float for days.

To ensure Macy’s got their balloons back, the department store sewed its address into them. Those that mailed them back received a gift from the department store.

World War II suspension

Between 1942 and 1944, officials suspended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a result of World War II. At the time, there was a growing need for rubber and helium in the war, so to comply with the war effort, the iconic parade took a step back for a couple of years.

Some balloons require up to 90 handlers

The Macy’s balloons are larger than life. In fact, some reach as tall as five stories high. Due to their mass, some of the Macy’s balloons require between 40 and 90 handlers each.

The balloons are created in an old Tootsie Roll factory

Today, the balloons are created in an old Tootsie Roll factory in Hoboken, New Jersey by the Macy’s Parade Studio.

Ahead of the festivities, they make their way to Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood for inflation. New Yorkers and tourists alike can view the inflation process near the Museum of Natural History the day before Thanksgiving.

It is the second oldest Thanksgiving parade in the United States

The second oldest Thanksgiving parades in the United States are Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit. The oldest parade is Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which started in 1920.

Weather conditions can wreak havoc on the parade route

Because much of the parade consists of balloons, parade officials watch the wind and weather conditions closely. In the last decade, officials installed wind measurement devices to help officials gather better insight into balloon behavior. Also, all balloons can fly closer to the ground during erratic wind conditions.

According to New York City law, Macy’s cannot fly the Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons if winds are over 23 mph. Gusts over 35 mph also prohibit the department store from carrying out the festivities.

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