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Macy’s and the parade

Macy's department store at Herald Square. From the Office of War Information Photograph Collection

Macy’s department store at Herald Square. From the Office of War Information Photograph Collection

Yesterday I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from beginning to end for the very first time. I’ve always caught parts of it, but when I lived in California it just started too early for me. There were bits of trivia about the parade provided throughout the broadcast that piqued my curiosity so I went on a quest to see what I could find.

Originally known as the Macy’s Christmas Parade, Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1924 was the beginning of an annual tradition. In an effort to boost holiday sales and highlight Macy’s new store, employees organized the parade and animals from the Central Park Zoo were featured.

Balloons were introduced in 1927 with Felix the Cat having the honor of being the first parade balloon. With no way to deflate the balloons after the parade, they were released into the air where they popped as they ascended. The following year valves were put in the balloons that allowed the helium to escape slowly when they were released at the end of the parade. A return address was provided and a reward was offered in hopes that the balloons would be returned. Not all balloons made it back, one landed in the East River and another drifted out to sea. In 1932 one stray balloon wrapped itself around an airplane’s wing sending it into a tailspin. No balloons were released from that point on. (Time Magazine: A brief history of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by Claire Suddath, November 27, 2008.)

More history, fun & games can be found on the Macy’s official site for parade information. Here are a few highlights:

  • Mickey Mouse first appeared in the parade in 1934.
  • The parade was first televised nationally in 1947.
  • The parade has received 9 Emmy Awards since 1979 for outstanding achievement.
  • Snoopy is the character with the most balloons in parade history.

The history of Macy’s is quite interesting as well and the website for Macy’s Inc. presents a timeline of events. Highlights include:

  • R.H. Macy & Co. was opened in 1858 as a dry goods store in New York City. First day sales totaled $11.06.
  • Macy’s moved to Herald Square in New York City in 1902.
  • The Herald Square store becomes the largest in the world in 1924, and of course, the first parade was this year.
  • In 1929 Federated Department Stores, Inc. was formed (now known as Macy’s, Inc.) and included Macy’s, May Department Stores Company, Shillitos, and others. Bloomingdale’s joined the group in 1930.
  • In 1939 the Thanksgiving holiday was moved from the last Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday by President Franklin Roosevelt. This change was solidified by a 1941 Act of Congress.

For more information on the history of Macy’s or the Federated Department Store’s Inc. a subject search of the Library catalog reveals some interesting historical items like The romance of a great store, or America’s first lady boss: a wisp of a girl, Macy’s, and romance. For further research our Guide to Business History Resources or Doing Company Research are great places to start!

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