Here are six fun historical facts about the parade:
1. It was originally a Christmas parade
The original store was about 20 blocks south on Sixth Avenue near 14th Street. Macy’s has been at its current flagship location, at Broadway and 34th Street, since 1902. Continuing expansion made the location what Macy’s called the “world’s largest store,” an entire city block with more than 1 million square feet of retail space.
In celebration, employees organized a Christmas parade in 1924 featuring “floats, bands, animals from the zoo and 10,000 onlookers,” according to a Macy’s history page. It also started way up at 145th Street. The parade concluded with Santa Claus and the unveiling of the store’s Christmas windows. Three years later, the Christmas Parade was renamed the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
2. The balloons have been around almost since the beginning
The Elf on a Shelf balloon floated by on a blue-sky day in 2012.
One tradition didn’t last long. The balloons were originally allowed to float away, and those who found them got a gift certificate from Macy’s.
3. The parade was first broadcast on the radio
You had to use your imagination when the first broadcasts of the parade took place in 1932; they were on the radio. The parade was first televised in 1946 in New York and then nationally on NBC the next year.
4. Fans can watch the balloons get inflated
Macy’s is the world’s second largest consumer of helium. During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade there will be about 30 balloons this year.
It’s hard to keep things hidden on an island as cramped as Manhattan, and the Macy’s balloons are no exception. They’re inflated at a staging area at 77th Street and Central Park West, near the American Museum of Natural History. For many families, watching the balloons get ready is just as much a tradition as the parade itself.
5. The route has changed over time
For years, the parade’s Midtown route went right down Broadway, Manhattan’s spine. But in 2009, the route was moved to Seventh Avenue because of new pedestrian plazas along Broadway. It was changed to Sixth Avenue in 2011. Given the parade’s draw as a tourist attraction, this did not go over well with some folks.
6. It hasn’t always gone well
It looks so nice on television, doesn’t it? But late November in New York can be dicey.
In 1957, a wet day got wetter for people near a Popeye balloon: The character’s hat filled with water and drenched parade watchers. The same thing happened in 1962 with a Donald Duck hat.
Superman once lost his arm to tree branches.
One balloon struck a lamppost and injured four people; one woman was in a coma for a month. The Pink Panther threatened a woman holding its ropes.