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85 Years of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Pictures

85 Years of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Pictures

For many Americans, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is just about as important (if not more) as the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie that will grace the table later in the day (and then all the leftovers the following day, of course). It’s the babysitter that many moms and dads around the country rely on to keep the kids engaged while the last mad rush to finish the celebratory feast takes place in the kitchen. It’s reason enough on its own to throw a party — a parade party with brunchy cocktails, mouthwatering egg casseroles, and homemade muffins. And this year, there is real reason to celebrate: the parade is celebrating its 85th year.

The planning process for this “party” in the streets of unprecedented proportions begins every year, the day after the previous year’s parade. With new floats, balloons, and entertainment to consider, it takes a full year (and a dedicated team working full-time for a year to pull it off, along with a massive team of volunteers to drive the balloons and floats, and to coordinate the approximately 1,500 kids) to put together. “Little know the effort that goes into planning the parade,” says Amy Kule, the parade’s executive producer, who has been a part of the event for the past 15 years. And after some wayward balloons escaped in 1997, the planning has gone high-tech, too, with pole-mounted anemometers measuring wind speeds by the minute among preparations that The New York Times called “worthy of a large-scale military operation.”

Sure, the Macy’s employees give up their Thanksgiving and personal time for the celebration, but “it’s the best gift we could give to the world,” Kule says. Plus, it’s relevant. “Whatever is happening in the U.S. is reflected in the parade — we bring whatever it is that people love most to life.”

While today’s parade looks very different from the parades of the past — just take a look at these images of Santa in the first processional celebration, or this car, pulled by ladies in white (the latter-day Rockettes?), carrying a Christmas tree — many traditional elements remain the same, says Kule. Santa Claus has been an important part of the parade since the first one in 1924. Tom the Turkey is always the first float in line, kicking off the parade as the ribbon is cut uptown, carrying pilgrims atop his back. While the balloons and floats might be crowd favorites, so too are the Broadway performances. “It all began in the 1970s,” explains Kule, “It’s a way for people to experience the thrill of Broadway without having to make it to New York.”

There is a rich history when it comes to the cast of characters who grace the space above New York’s Sixth Avenue, as well. Live animals were used in the parade’s first years, until Felix the Cat, the first balloon, made of rubber by the Goodyear Tire Company, debuted in 1927. The next year, the balloons were all filled with helium, and released at the parade’s conclusion — a tradition that later ended after some burst high above the ground. Imagine, though, if you were one of the lucky few to find a deflated balloon, with the Macy’s address sewn inside — would you keep it? (Those who did received a gift — probably not the kind of free-gift-with-purchase you might see today, though.) Mickey Mouse, another timeless classic, arrived a couple of years later in 1934. Kermit the Frog is another one of the most popular balloons, and has been a part of the celebration since his debut in 1978; he will be flying again this year, along with Mickey, and newcomer (and one of the biggest balloons) Julius the Monkey.

What to Expect of the 2020 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

NEW YORK - Since 1924, the employees of Macy’s Department store have been putting on a Thanksgiving Day parade that takes place in the streets of New York City. This annual event has ballooned into a national celebration that, to many, marks the official start of the holiday season.

“We can look at a parade and say, oh, it's just a parade, but I think it's more than, and that's why I think we're so passionate this year of keeping the tradition alive,” said Wesley Whatley, creative producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

What You Need To Know

  • For nearly 100 years, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a time honored tradition for both New Yorkers, and families around the country
  • The parade will still go on, but it's going to be a little different this year, due to safety concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic
  • NY1’s On Stage Host Frank DiLella has a little taste of what to expect

“We are pushing for this tradition so that when you wake up Thanksgiving morning, you know what to do, you can turn on, you can rely on us for a little bit of fun entertainment and some relief to what's been going on,” said Susan Tercero the Executive Producer of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The fact that we are able to do this is incredible. It's remarkable. And we know that we're going to pull it off and we're going to keep pulling it off and pushing it forward every year hereafter,” said Rick Pomer, creative director of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In a normal year, its 2.5 mile route, also known as the world’s longest stage, would be lined with 3.5 million spectators. But like so many things in 2020, modifications have to be made in order for this American classic to safely continue.

“This year's parade is certainly going to be different, but it's going to feel familiar to a lot of people. Since safety is our top priority. We limited our participation rates overall for the parade to, about 30% of what we would normally have,” said Tercero.

Ordinarily, the massive balloons are publicly inflated for the enjoyment of around one million New Yorkers, just north of the parade’s normal starting line at the Natural History Museum.

This year, to discourage onlookers from gathering, the public inflation won’t be happening, and the parade itself will be starting just blocks from the iconic department store on 34th street.

“As we've seen year after year, no matter what happens, New York City especially, is this very strong community of survivors of people who can get through just about anything. And I think this parade is also a symbol of that,” concluded Tercero.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Wesley Whatley’s name. It’s Whatley, not Whately.

Facts From the Stacks

For many Americans, one of the highlights of Thanksgiving Day is waking up to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. Every year, people gather to watch large balloons, beautiful floats, loud marching bands, and hear the sounds of the holiday. The parade was started by immigrants to celebrate their American citizenship. The parade is broadcasted live with musical acts, performances, and a lot of people on the streets celebrating the season.

The history of the parade is long, with many changes since the beginning. For one, it was originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, and the first one was on Christmas Day in 1924. One of the first large balloons was of Felix the Cat. Some of the other first balloons included a toy soldier, dragon, and elephant. In 1928, Felix was inflated with helium, and without a plan to deflate this massive balloon, New York City parade organizers simply let Felix fly off into the sky. Here are some more interesting facts and the year that they happened.

1932 The first radio broadcast of the parade.

1933 Santa Claus has brought up the rear for every parade except for in 1933, he led the parade.

1934 Mickey Mouse made his giant balloon debut.

1937 The Macy’s Day Parade floats were pulled by horses until 1939. This year was also the year when Superman made his giant balloon debut.

1941 Macy’s Day Parade occurred just weeks before the start of World War II. It featured a prominent Uncle Sam helium parade balloon.

1942-1944 The parade was temporarily suspended for World War II. During that time, the rubber and helium originally meant to blow up the famous Macy’s balloons were donated to the American military. 650 pounds of rubber was donated by Macy’s during this period.

1945 The parade route change in 1945, from 145th Street and Convent Avenue to the modern day kick off at 77th Street and Central Park West. More than two million people attended the 1945 Macy’s Day Parade, and this popular New York City event has continued to grow ever since.

1946 The first TV broadcast locally of the parade.

1947 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was first televised nationally.

1958 There was a helium shortage. So the Macy’s parade balloons were filled with air instead. Then they were kept afloat with large cranes.

1961 Bullwinkle the Moose, first appeared in the parade. Bullwinkle is one of the oldest Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons. He is also one of the most popular of all the Macy’s balloons.

1968 Snoopy- the Peanuts character created by Charles Schultz – holds the distinction of having the most Thanksgiving Day NYC Parade floats, with six different balloons since 1968. He has worn six costumes including an astronaut, king, ice skater, and, of course, a World War I flying ace.

1971 Because of heavy rain, the parade was forced to ground all giant balloons, making it the first Macy’s Parade without balloons since 1926.

1975 Handlers lost control of the Underdog balloon. He crashed into a light pole in Times Square and was out for the rest of the parade. The same thing happened to Snoopy and another balloon.

1979 Nine broadcasts since 1979 have been awarded for an Emmy for outstanding achievement.

1983 The Fraggles made their debut. Phyllis Diller dressed as Cinderella- accompanied by Erik Estrada dressed as Prince Charming – also made an appearance.

1984 Raggedy Ann and Garfield made their giant balloon debut.

1989 The parade got through its first snowstorm.

1993 A minor mishap occurred when “Sonic the Hedgehog broke an off-duty policeman’s shoulder.”

1997 43mph winds blew the Cat in the Hat balloon into a lamppost, causing the metal arm to fall off and hit 33 year old Kathleen Caronna on the head. She went into a coma and was hospitalized for the month. Caronna sued Macy’s, as well as New York City, fo $395 million. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

2005 The M & Ms balloon crashed into a light post during the parade. The falling debris injured two sisters.

2009 The parade route was changed to eliminate Broadway completely, starting at 77th Street and Central Park West and ending at 7th Avenue. The change allowed for more space for parade workers and viewers.

2014 More than 3 million people participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade each year, another 50 million tune in to NBC. More than 4,000 volunteers each year take time to prepare this New York City Thanksgiving celebration.

2020 The live parade is cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, it will be live on N BC, Thursday, November 26, 9-Noon. Check out Macy’s website for all the information

In the summer of 1986, Mike Miller secured the first opportunity for dancers to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Later that November, 301 dance drill team officers from across the country representing the National Dance Alliance opened the 60th Anniversary Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 1989, a second production number was added for NCA cheerleaders. That Thanksgiving, it snowed in New York City and many Macy’s volunteers from surrounding areas were unable to get into the city due to the weather. The cheerleaders not only performed but stepped in to serve as balloon handlers. Jean McFaddin, the Parade director, was quoted as saying the cheerleaders had “saved the parade” that year.

Eventually, Mike Miller left the National Dance Alliance to create Mike Miller & Associates Special Events.

In 1994, Universal Cheerleaders Association and Universal Dance Association were selected to provide performers in the parade, adding to the group's already massive size. Varsity Spirit served as an integral part of the Mike Miller & Associates family.

Over the years, the performers have stayed in different hotels in New York City. While visiting the city, performers view a Broadway show, dine at famous New York eateries, take a cruise around the Statue of Liberty, visit the 9/11 Memorial, the Radio City Music Hall Spectacular, the Empire State Building and many more signature New York landmarks.

With space limitations, rehearsals were often challenging, requiring practice in many unusual places such as the Javitz Center, the USS Intrepid, and the company's now-ample space at the New York Hilton Midtown. For many years the performers were transported to a parking lot outside the Macy’s Parade Studio in Hoboken, New Jersey to give Macy’s and NBC an opportunity to preview the productions. Macy’s and NBC grew such confidence in the quality of Spirit of America's productions that the company provides a first viewing on Monday evening’s Herald Square rehearsal.

Over the years, Mike Miller has been recognized with many awards and honors for his contribution to the parade. He was the recipient of the 1989 Macy’s “Rolle” Award for Outstanding Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade contributions, the Director’s Award in 1994 and 1997, and the 20 Year Involvement Recognition Award in 2005. Finally in 2007, he received the Macy’s Special Achievement Award. His cheerleaders and dancers were the only performers who held a permanent berth in the parade besides Santa Claus and the Rockettes.

On December 17, 2007, Mike passed away shortly after his groups’ 22nd parade appearance. After Miller's passing, the company retained the name of Mike Miller & Associates Special Events until 2010, when the company's name was changed to Spirit of America Productions.

Since then, the Spirit of America Dance Team and Spirit of America Dance Stars have continued to make annual appearances in the Parade, entertaining millions of Americans through elaborate costumes, props and masterful dance moves.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Spirit of America announced in August of 2020 that the Spirit of America Dance Stars and cheerleaders would be unable to perform in the Parade due to health and safety concerns. Despite the 2020 trip cancellation, the group's 2020 Parade appearance was deferred to 2021, with registration starting in December 2020.

Macy's announces Thanksgiving Day Parade performers, including Dolly Parton and cast of 'Hamilton'

The Elf On The Shelf Balloon at the 93rd Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov. 28, 2019.

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

One Thanksgiving Day tradition isn't going anywhere this year, but it will look a little different.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will still be held this Thanksgiving with a much shorter route but all the regular glitz and performances.

With Broadway still shut down, the casts of worldwide hit &ldquoHamilton,&rdquo &ldquoMean Girls,&rdquo &ldquoJagged Little Pill,&rdquo and &ldquoAin&rsquot Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations" will perform at the parade.

Other performers include country legend Dolly Parton, the Godmother of Soul Patti LaBelle, Lauren Alaina, Jimmie Allen and Noah Cyrus, Ally Brooke, Sofia Carson, CNCO, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Karol G, Tori Kelly, Ella Mai, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, the "Sesame Street" Muppets and cast, Tony and Grammy winner Leslie Odom Jr., Keke Palmer, Pentatonix, Bebe Rexha, Jordin Sparks, Sebastia n Yatra, and Brett Young.

Instead of traversing 2.5 miles of New York City streets, the floats and balloons will instead travel the one city block in front of the flagship Macy's store without an audience lining the street.

The pared-down parade will look different in other ways too.

&ldquoWe still wanted to deliver what people expect on a Thanksgiving morning,&rdquo parade executive producer Susan Tercero told the New York Times' Julia Jacobs. &ldquoBut it&rsquos going to look like a parade during COVID times: We&rsquore going to have people in masks and we&rsquore going to be socially distanced.&rdquo

‘Safety is our priority,’ says executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

"Safety is our No. 1 priority, and we can't do this without people in the city of New York and the state really supporting us and guiding us along the way," Susan Tercero, the executive producer of the parade, said on TODAY Friday.

"It's been a very interesting year, but our goal is to really deliver a wonderful, safe, entertaining event for everybody Thanksgiving morning."

A highlight for many every year is seeing the new balloons. TODAY got a glimpse at two new ones that will be flying on Turkey Day - one of the Boss Baby from the hit animated movie, and one of Red Titan from the popular YouTube channel "Ryan's World."

The balloons will not be pulled by hand by a large group of workers this year and will instead be anchored by specially-designed vehicles driving in precision.

The number of participants in this year's parade has been cut by about 75%, and those taking part will only be from the New York tri-state area and will be socially distanced and wearing masks. New Yorkers are also being asked not to gather in the Herald Square area to watch in person.

Macy’s And The City Of New York Announce Plan For Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ® Celebration

NEW YORK--( BUSINESS WIRE )--Today, Macy’s (NYSE:M) and the City of New York announced details of the reimagined plan for the safe production of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ® celebration. For the first time in its more than 90-year history, the annual Macy’s Parade will be modified to safely bring the magic to more than 50 million viewers nationwide on Thanksgiving Day, while maintaining all of the spectacle and wonder of this cherished holiday tradition. This year the celebration will shift to a television only special presentation, showcasing the Macy’s Parade’s signature mix of giant character helium balloons, fantastic floats, street performers, clowns and heralding the arrival of the holiday season with the one-and-only Santa Claus.

“New York City is always proud to join Macy's to ring in the holiday season with New Yorkers and viewers around the world. We’ve worked closely with the Macy’s team on a safe and creative plan this year, and we look forward to keeping this tradition going on Thanksgiving Day,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Macy’s believes in celebration and the joy of marking milestone moments with family and friends. The Macy’s Parade is our love letter and gift to the City of New York and the nation. Under the unique challenges of these unparalleled times, we felt it was important to continue this cherished holiday tradition that has been the opening act to the holiday season for generations of families,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “While it will certainly look different in execution, this year’s Macy’s Parade celebration will once again serve its historical purpose – to bring joy into the hearts of millions across the nation.”

For nearly 100 years, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been synonymous with the official start of the holiday season in the United States. Growing from a two block-long collection of Macy’s colleagues dressed in whimsical clown outfits, playing instruments and adorning floats in 1924, to the world-famous spectacle we know today, at the core of the Macy’s Parade has been the warm memories that fill the hearts and minds of generations of American families.

To safely produce this icon of American culture during this unprecedented time, Macy’s partnered with the City of New York to create a safe plan that would keep the tradition alive. Following the success of this summer’s reimagined Macy’s 4 th of July Fireworks ® show, the Macy’s team meticulously reviewed every area of the Thanksgiving Day playbook to put in place enhanced health and safety practices that align with CDC guidelines, as well as local and state government protocols.

The safety of participants and spectators is Macy’s number one priority and this year’s 94 th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade celebration will be produced solely as a television event allowing millions of New Yorkers and the nation to safely experience it from the comforts of home.

As part of Macy’s comprehensive health and wellness plan a number of changes will be implemented in order to execute this event safely. These changes include, but are not limited to the following:

Hairstyles weren’t the only thing getting bigger in the 1980s: Head parade designer Manfred Bass led the effort to engineer bigger and better balloons and floats. The iconic 1980 Superman balloon was almost 100 feet long and at the time, it was the largest balloon to date, and an oversized train float glided down the parade route. And the balloons and floats weren’t the only things growing: In 1982, a record-breaking 80 million viewers watched the parade on NBC, the same year that the broadcast won its second Daytime Emmy.

From the &apos40s through the late &apos80s, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade had nine oversize balloons. But in the mid-1990s, Macy’s doubled the size of the parade. In 1996, 17 floats and 18 giant helium balloons traveled down the parade route as &apos90s pop culture icons were featured as the main acts. Shania Twain, the Backstreet Boys, and Christina Aguilera performed musical acts as balloons shaped like Bart Simpson, Arthur, and Garfield floated down the parade route for the first time. 

The last decade of the millennium brought with it a new kind of parade balloon, too. The �lloon’ (a combination between an inflatable balloon and a parade float) was created by Manfred Bass and used in the Macy’s parade for the first time.

For Nearly 100 Years, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Has Been a Children’s Pilgrimage of Wonder

It is a hard rite to explain: To commemorate the multicultural harvest feast of 1621 at Plymouth Rock, about three million New Yorkers and visitors annually station themselves on freezing late-November streets to watch giant inflatable branded cartoon characters, all promoting a department store that filed for bankruptcy protection more than 25 years ago. Something like that. More than 40 million people watch it on television. Even compared to eating turkey, a dish that few people truly make well, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, now in its 92nd year, is a bit of a head-scratcher.


But New Yorkers do love a parade, and where New Yorkers gather, New York Times photographers follow. They are the people who watch the people who watch the inflatable Snoopy or Betty Boop. What they find is not so much collective gratitude, as the holiday is meant to foster, but collective wonder. Look, there’s Kermit the Frog or SpongeBob SquarePants, bigger even than the King Kong on Broadway. The season’s public assemblies to come — Black Friday sales, SantaCon and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square — are largely adult affairs, but the Thanksgiving parade belongs to the children.

It is also a hearteningly democratic celebration. A privileged few may watch from warm offices or apartments, but on the streets the choice viewing spots go to whoever arrives first or climbs most cleverly. On this one day, the shortest get the best views.

Isn’t that reason to give thanks?

Which is not to say that it is always a tame affair. Every so often, a balloon gets tangled up in a streetlight and dumps glass or metal on the people below. The crosswinds around Columbus Circle are no joke.

We got a glimpse inside the N.J. warehouse where Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade magic happens

Macy's opened its Moonachie, New Jersey parade studio Tuesday for the media and 400 school children to get a peek at five new floats and five new balloons that will debut at this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The studio's 28 full-time employees work year-round on the annual parade, which is marking its 93rd year. Preparations have already begun on the 2020 parade.

All told, it takes about 8,000 people to pull off the parade, said John Piper, head of production at Macy's Parade Studio.

Here's what's new for this year:

Rexy, the mascot for COACH, leads a tandem, animated new float dubbed Rexy in the City, which is set in a carnival-style reimagining of New York City.

Da'rya Davis, a third grader from College Achieve Greater Asbury Park Charter School, was in awe of the top hat-wearing Rexy in the City Float.

Local schools can request to be admitted for the annual parade unveiling. But Macy's can only accommodate a fraction of those who want to pass through in the 5-hour open studio event.

Typically the students are 8 to 10 years old.

Hundreds of kids are brought through in one day on tours led by the designers in what the studio calls "the most engaging math, science and engineering lesson ever."

Rexy's head and tail move up and down and side to side and the wheels of the stage coach that she's pulling also turn.

Surrounding them are cut-outs of iconic New York City landmarks and buildings.

The sparkling display used 60 pounds of glitter.

Sketches were on display showing how the design for the Rexy in the City float was honed from the initial idea to the final result.

The float was built in partnership with COACH, which is the first luxury fashion brand to have a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Costumes that will be worn by the people aboard the Rexy in the City float, where Tony and Emmy award winner Billy Porter will perform.

The concept of the Rexy in the City float is the fearless fashion dino, Rexy, traveling the world sharing the free-spirited attitude of the COACH brand.

Two new balloons, Snoopy and Love Flies up to the Sky, were partially inflated in an adjoining room.

The balloons require about 16,000 to 18,000 cubic feet of helium and take about 2 hours each to blow up.

Snoopy will appear in his 8th incarnation in the Macy's parade. This time he's being outfitted, in a brand new balloon, as an astronaut.

Astronaut Snoopy is 1 of 3 new giant balloons -- the other new giant balloons are Sponge Bob and Gary and Green Eggs and Ham.

Two new medium balloons are Smokey Bear and Love Flies up to the Sky.

The Toy House of Marvelous Milestones, left, and the Home Sweet Home floats.

Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store features Cracker Barrel's hearth, front porch with rocking chairs, turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers that are as big as wheelbarrows and candy sticks as tall as telephone poles.

The elaborate, two-story tall floats will all have to be disassembled -- broken down to 8.5 ft by 12.5 ft. -- to fit through the Lincoln Tunnel.

They and the balloons will be brought from the State Street warehouse into Manhattan on Wednesday.

Watch the video: 2018 Macys Thanksgiving day parade full (November 2021).