Money was flowing like water in the 1920’s and Macy’s Department Store was scooping it up hand over fist. The company went public in 1922 and began buying up competitors throughout the country. However, the flagship store remained in Harold Square in New York City. In 1924, they expanded the Harold Square store to take up an entire city block with a whopping one million square feet of retail space. To celebrate the opening of the “World’s Largest Store”, Macy’s decided to have a parade on Thanksgiving day 1924.
Ironically, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was not about Thanksgiving. Instead it was entirely Christmas themed. Macy’s employees dressed as clowns, cowboys and sword wielding knights. Floats drove the six miles from Harold Square to Harlem. Many of the floats were nursery rhyme themed to match the Christmas window display in the Macy’s store. There were also five bands and a traveling menagerie of animals from the Central Park Zoo. And starting a tradition, the end of the parade was brought up by Santa Claus complete with reindeer, sleigh perched on a mountain of snow and ice. When they reached Macy’s, Santa descended from his sleigh and was crowned “King of the Kiddies”. At Santa’s command, the new Macy’s Christmas window was unveiled and he presided over the remaining festivities from a golden throne.
It was an instant hit as more than 250,000 people crowded the streets to watch the parade. Spectators stood four and five people deep to watch the show. It quickly became a New York City tradition. However, the zoo animals did pose a problem. They were skittish in the crowds and the roars and growls frightened the watching children. In 1927, the zoo animals were replaced by the first large helium balloon. The first balloon was Felix the Cat, designed by Sarg. The balloons were much better tempered than the zoo animals and quickly became the parade’s signature attraction.
Today more than 3.5 million New Yorkers and visitors line the route of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. From the comfort of home, 50 million television viewers tune in to watch the holiday pageant of giant character balloons, floats, celebrities and marching bands.
Sources available on request