The History of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
This year marks the 90th annual parade—although the tradition is older than that.
The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was held in 1924, after the store had taken over an entire block of midtown Manhattan. To celebrate the opening of the “World’s Largest Store,” Macy’s decided to hold a parade and hopefully start customers thinking about their Christmas shopping.
Take a stroll down memory lane with these classic photos of the parade, and be sure to tune in to our livestream of the parade on Travel + Leisure's Facebook page on Thursday morning.
Large balloons began appearing in the parade in 1927. A not-too-ferocious dragon caught the fancy of the crowd in this photo from 1931.
The animal-shaped balloons were attached with string and paraded through New York City. At the end of the 1928 parade, the balloons were released into the sky, where they burst.
The following years, Macy’s employees sewed address labels into the balloons. Whoever found the burst balloons could mail them back to Macy’s and receive a reward.
An Eddie Cantor balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Broadway, Nov. 29, 1934.
The parade’s balloons have often portrayed popular characters. Mickey Mouse first appeared in 1934. Other characters who joined in Kermit the Frog, Barney, and Garfield. The parade continually introduces new characters as they become popular. In 2015, Angry Birds balloons first appeared in the parade.
The parade was first broadcast locally in 1946. The following year, NBC began broadcasting the parade to a national audience.
Youngsters and grownups line up at Central Park West and 70th St. to watch Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Here, a big Turkey gobbler goes by, towed by white-coated, tall-hatted chefs.
A clown stops at 63rd Street to shake hands with the kids watching the parade.
A clown whose 'head' is in danger of blowing away becomes big favorite with kiddies jamming street along Central Park West.
The parade has always including marching bands as attractions, but the number of participants has consistently grown. This year, 12 bands will march in the parade, including the Macy’s Great American Marching Band with 250 members representing all 50 states.
One of the characters from Mighty Mouse in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, in Times Square.
A sweet-themed float passes by during the parade.
Cameras get an overhead view of the parade.
Zoo animals eventually proved themselves to be unreliable additions to the parade. Slowly, parade organizers began cutting out live animals from the show and adding character balloons. The floats became more and more elaborate and the length of the parade grew.
The first parade route started in Harlem on 145th Street, marching the six miles down to the Macy’s store on 34th Street.
The parade queen and her court descend on Columbus Circle.
The Mighty Mouse balloon deflating during the parade.
Kids get close up with one of the paraders.
Away they go! A snappy line of girl skaters rolls down Broadway.
An inflated Popeye floats above the crowd.
Punctured before the parade, Donald Duck has a limp foot.
The Rockettes joined the parade in 1957. They are traditionally one of the last acts to perform.
The Rockettes in sync.
One thing that has remained the same for over 90 years is the grand finale: Santa Claus. At the end of the parade, Father Christmas sits outside of Macy’s and welcomes customers to the holiday shopping season.
A Christmas balloon passes overhead.
Announcer Joe Garagiola.
NBC announcer Joe Garagiola with spectators. Celebrities, musicians and actors have been a part of the parade’s history. Some of the most iconic to make appearances include Ginger Rogers, Sammy Davis, Jr., and more recently Mariah Carey.
Weeble is looking a bit deflated in the 1976 parade. The golden anniversary show proved to be a real chiller at 38 degrees in Times Square.
Mickey Mouse takes in Broadway's sights, including a crowd of more than a million, at the 55th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Superman during the 56th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
During World War II (1942-44), the parade was canceled and rubber from the balloons was donated to the war effort.