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History & Biography

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macy's has been the flagship department store of New York City since 1902 when it opened on Herald Square. It eventually expanded to cover almost an entire city block. In 1924, the store's employees were largely immigrants and wanted to celebrate their various heritages with a parade. They deemed it the "Macy's Christmas Parade" and on Thanksgiving Day, 250,000 New Yorkers lined the streets to watch costumed performers, floats, bands, and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo march six miles through Manhattan.

Here are some other things you may not know about the parade.

  • The trademark giant balloons made their first appearance in 1927, led by Felix the Cat.
  • For years, the balloons were released into the skies over New York with a return address.  There was an award to anyone who retrieved one. This practice stopped in 1933 when a pilot crashed trying to retrieve a balloon.
  • The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade floats were pulled by horses until 1939.
  • The parade was suspended in 1942 as all rubber and helium were needed for the war effort. The parade resumed in 1945 drawing in more parade-goers than ever.
  • In 1947, the parade was featured in the film "Miracle on 34th Street" and gained nationwide notoriety.
  • The parade was aired on national network television for the first time in 1948.
  • The parade was almost canceled in 1963 after the assassination of John F Kennedy but it went ahead as scheduled with hopes of raising national spirit.
  • In 1971, heavy rains grounded all of the balloons for the first time since 1927. The parade continued without them and some networks interspersed old footage of balloons from years past.
  • At least a dozen accidents have occurred when balloons have caught on lampposts or crashed into buildings. The worst accident occurred in 1997 when a Cat in the Hat balloon careened into a lamppost and hit 33 year old Kathleen Caronna on the head, putting her into a month-long coma. She survived and sued New York City for $395 million (the two parties later settled for an undisclosed amount).
  • Many famous personalities have hosted the televised parade coverage over the years, including Betty White, Ed McMahon, Pat Sajak, and Kermit the Frog. Al Roker has been hosting coverage the longest, clocking in at 18 years.
  • Santa Claus has been welcomed into Herald Square at the end of every parade since the first parade in 1924. His appearance symbolizes the arrival of the Christmas season.

Today, an average of 3.5 million people line the streets of New York to see the 2.5 mile parade and another 50 million watch it on network television. The parade features over a dozen balloons, 30 floats, 1500 dancers and cheerleaders, and marching bands from all over the country. It requires more than 8,000 participants to pull it off successfully. It truly is an American Thanksgiving tradition.

Want to see it? Tune in to NBC at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 28, and impress your friends and family with your newfound historic knowledge of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Check out more information about the parade and other Thanksgiving traditions at your favorite branch of The Library:

 Inside Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade History Channel DVD





 America's Parade: A Celebration of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade by The Editors of LIFE Magazine




 Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well by Sam Sifton





 The New Thanksgiving Table: An American Celebration of Family, Friends, and Food by Diane Morgan




 The Thanksgiving Ceremony: New Traditions for America's Family Feast by Edward Bleier


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