Felix the Cat was the first giant balloon to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in 1927. The following year, Felix was inflated with helium with no deflation plan, but he popped shortly after being released.
The first Macy’s Parade took place in 1924 and was referred to as the Macy’s Christmas Parade. It started as a gimmick to promote Macy’s stores, and employees dressed as various characters like clowns and cowboys and walked Central Park Zoo animals along a 60-mile-long route that stretched from Midtown Manhattan to Harlem.
With more than eight decades under its belt, the parade itself was bound to hit a few bumps over the years. For instance, in 1958, the balloons had to be brought down the parade route by cranes due to a helium shortage. The parade was also canceled in 1942, 1943, and 1944 due to World War II. But not even the death of President Kennedy six days before the parade could deter the parade, as it was thought that the celebration would lift spirits.
In the parade's early years, the organizers planned to just let the balloons slowly deflate after the parade. They attached return addresses on the balloons, so anyone who found one could claim a prize from Macy’s. Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long because the balloon returns were not very successful.
Since 1924, participants in the parade have been Macy's employees, their families, friends, or anyone who had relationship with the parade’s organizers. Barring requested celebrities or guests, outside volunteers must apply to be a part of the tradition.
Every single year the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ends with Santa Claus as a symbolic reference of ushering in the holiday season. In 1933, Santa was still at the parade, only this time the 1 million people in attendance saw him leading the charge as the opening attraction.
Macy’s is the second-largest consumer of helium in the world. The first? The United States Government.
If you weren’t in New York City in 1932, you definitely weren’t catching a glimpse of the Thanksgiving Day glamour. You could, however, for the first time tune into a live radio broadcast and allow your imagination to run wild with the details.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a definite classic, but it isn’t the only one, or the oldest of its kind. In fact, the 6ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia is the oldest by four years, with its debut in 1920.