The History of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Elizabeth Gillespie, Staff Reporter

Have you ever wondered how the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade became a staple of American culture?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the second oldest Thanksgiving Day parade, but it is the largest parade in the world.

During the Roaring Twenties, one of the largest and most successful department stores emerged. R.H. Macy & Co. opened in 1922 New York and would expand its store two years later with over one million square feet of shopping space. The store began to collect a number of competitors, so it needed a tagline and a demonstration to support its claim to greatness.

Macy’s was named the “World’s Largest Store” after it was expanded several city blocks in 1924. Macy’s held a parade on Thanksgiving Day that was themed to Christmas in the hope it would put shoppers in a “giving spirit,” meaning they would want to spend money and make more purchases.

The first parade saw Macy’s employees in vibrant colors, floats, various brands and live animals from Central Park Zoo. It was featured on the radio, and this did not change until 1945 when it was first televised in New York and then nationally one year later.

Zoo animals marched the six-mile route, which resulted in their disobedience and discomfort by the end. In 1928, the live animals were replaced by Macy’s signature large-scale floats after Felix the Cat as a helium balloon was debuted in 1927.

The parade ends in Herald Square where Santa Claus has made his  show-stopping appearance since 1924. During his first appearance, he was crowned in front of Macy’s 34th Street entrance. And although the parade has Thanksgiving in its title today, Santa Claus is still one of the greatest features of the parade.

The following day, the parade was mentioned by the New York Harold with only two sentences.

However, the people of New York were happy to make this parade a Thanksgiving tradition. Macy’s announced it would have the parade the next year due to this parade’s major success.

In 1934, actor, singers and other celebrities were welcomed onto the parade route, a tradition that continues today.

The only time the parade has ever been cancelled was between 1942 and 1944 due to the helium shortage caused by World War II. However, once the parade returned, it was bigger than ever before.

One key aspect of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is its evolutionary pattern. Each year is a new attempt to outdo the last. Today, the parade has been scaled back to two miles, but the participation, theatrics and crowd have significantly expanded since it was first held. New technology, grand performances, huge helium balloon characters and incredible floats are all part of the appeal that has allowed the parade’s evolution to continue.

If you would like to participate in this American tradition this year, the Macy’s 95th Thanksgiving Day Parade will air live on NBC on Thursday, Nov. 25 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.