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1924: In New York City, The First Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Is Held

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924. (RV1864/Flickr)

On November 27, 1924, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade came marching down the streets of Manhattan. The parade that has become a Thanksgiving tradition for many was originally held to celebrate Christmas—as well as Macy’s becoming the “world’s largest store,” with one million square feet of retail space covering an entire city block from Seventh to Broadway Avenue along 34th Street. Macy’s founder Rowland Hussey Macy hoped the parade would drive business to the store and encourage customers to start shopping early for the holiday.

The First Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Just like it does today, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began at 9:00 A.M. and ended around noon, traveling six miles through the Big Apple before a crowd of people four or five deep. This first parade had a nursery rhyme theme, which matched the display windows of Macy’s, with floats featuring characters such as Little Miss Muffet, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. Striding alongside these floats was a collection of animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo, including bears, camels, and elephants. Macy’s estimated that over 250,000 people came to see the first parade, inspiring the company to announce the next morning in all the major New York newspapers that it would be back again the following year, beginning a Thanksgiving tradition.

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How The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Has Changed

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Over the years, the zoo animals that were the star of that first parade proved to be ill-suited participants. They became overwhelmed and agitated easily, and spectators were often frightened by them. The problem turned out to be a panacea, however, as the animals were replaced by the famous giant helium character balloons that are eagerly anticipated every Thanksgiving morning. Felix the Cat was the first balloon in 1927, and Mickey Mouse joined him in 1934.

The parade has undergone many changes over the years, including a shortened route, three cancellations in the ’40s due to World War II, the unceremonious firing of the horses that pulled the floats in favor of motorization in 1939, and broadcast on the radio starting in 1932 before switching to television in 1947. As much as the parade has evolved, however, one thing has always remained the same: Santa in his sleigh as the guest of honor bringing up the rear of the festivities.

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