Here’s a bit of history about Thanksgiving Day parades. In the 1920s, many first generation immigrants worked for Macy’s and were so proud of their newly acquired American heritage they wanted to hold parades to celebrate. However, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn’t actually the first such parade.
The first Thanksgiving Parade was held in Philadelphia and sponsored by the department store Gimbels in 1920. Ellis Gimbel, one of the store founders, wanted shoppers to come to his store to buy toys for their children. The first parade consisted of 50 store employees dressed up in costumes. The Gimbels parade continued until 1986 when the company sold out. Since then the parade has operated under various sponsorships and names.
The famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was first held in 1924, although it was known then as the “Christmas Parade” – like all other parades held on Thanksgiving, the purpose was to get people thinking about Christmas shopping – at where else but Macy’s!
The first years of the parade consisted of costumed Macy’s employees, floats, bands and animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. In 1927, the first balloon animal replaced the zoo animals. The balloons were produced by Goodyear and Felix the Cat was the first, filled with air and the following year the balloons were inflated with helium. At the end of the 1928 parade, balloons were released at the end of the parade and burst. In 1929 a safety valve was added to allow the balloons to float for days – address labels were sewn inside and whoever found a balloon and sent it back received a gift from Macy’s.
The parade continued to grow and was broadcast on radio beginning in 1932 through 1941. World War II brought a suspension for the annual festivities – rubber and helium were needed to fight the war. In 1948 the parade was televised for the first time, and as they say, the rest is history. With television coverage (and repeats), the parade continues to draw not only thousands in New York City, but millions of television viewers.
Hudson’s Department Store held its first parade in Detroit in 1924, the same year as Macy’s. Traditionally, Santa Claus would step off the final float at Hudson’s, accept the key to the city “and the hearts of good children everywhere.” The next day would bring hundreds of parents to Hudson’s to shop in the store’s toyland and to personally meet Santa Claus.
The Detroit parade was first televised in 1948 and continued to grow in spectacle as the years went by. In 1979 Hudson’s sponsorship was dropped, but the parade is still a Thanksgiving tradition – now known as “America’s Thanksgiving Parade.”
Another parade was organized by Louis Bamberger, owner of Bamberger’s Department Store, the first one held in 1931 in Newark, New Jersey.
In 1933, the balloon animals “talked” – gobbling, oinking, quacking and growling loud enough to be heard a half-mile away. One local newspaper previewed the parade with the following headline: “Twelve-Foot Duck Will Lay Egg in Street During Weird Parade”. In the 1940s, the floats and balloons were inspired by storybook characters like Mother Goose and Donald Duck.
The Bamberger parades ceased in 1958 as fewer and fewer people came in person to see the parades. One Newark resident remarked a couple of years ago, “Nobody needed Macy’s because we had Bambarger’s. If you lived in New Jersey, you came to Newark for the parade and to shop.”
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!