They came to America for reasons as diverse as their backgrounds. The scars of World War I forced some to flee poverty, overcrowding and famine. Others wanted to worship without fearing for themselves or their families. Some were simply exhilarated by the promise of the land of dreams. Ellis Island was their Plymouth Rock.
Many of these first-generation immigrants in the 1920s found a piece of the American dream while working at one of the largest and most exciting department stores in the countryâMacy's Herald Square. Little did they know their legacy would be to create a uniquely American holiday tradition, one that continues to delight their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Proud of their new country, a group of employees wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving with a nod to the festivals they missed back home. They dressed in costumes and marched with Central Park Zoo animals from 145th Street to Macy's on 34th Street. Santa Claus closed out the festivities in Herald Square, as he still does today.
With as many as 250,000 reported to have watched the inaugural parade, Macy's decided to make it a yearly event. Balloons were introduced in 1927, and floats were first included in 1969.
Through the years, the parade has remained as resilient as the employees who founded it. When every balloon burst during the 1927 grand finale, parade organizers returned the next year with balloons that stayed inflated for days . From 1942 to 1944, the parade went on hiatus to support World War II. All balloons were deflated, and 650 pounds of scrap rubber were donated to the war effort. The parade returned in 1945 and had a record attendance in 1946. And though Popeye's cap dumped gallons of water on unsuspecting spectators after a 1957 downpour, the resilient sailor man returned to the parade route the following year.
Eighty-three years later, Mickey Mouse, Kermit the Frog and Snoopy replace the Central Park Zoo animals and more than 44 million watch from their living rooms each year.
Browse our favorite balloons!
Before Thanksgiving company arrives and the turkey is carved, steal a few moments to flip on the parade and give thanks for those who paved the way for one of our favorite holiday traditions. After all, who doesn't love a parade?
Published on November 23, 2009