Ticker tape parades have become a part of New York City’s image. You see photos of parades for New York sports teams when they win the big prize and they have become a way to celebrate other major events, but what is their history?
Instead of starting with the parade, I thought I would start with the ticker tape machine itself. Basically, the purpose of the ticker machine was to transmit price information over telegraph lines and on the receiving end the price would be put on a paper “tape.”
The history of the machine begins when Edward Calahan, a telegrapher in Manhattan working for Western Union Telegraph Company (or American Telegraph Company) was issued patent 76,157 (1868) for a machine to assist with the “Improvement in Telegraphic Indicators” that included the following:
In most commercial cities a want has been experienced of a cheap and reliable indicator for telegraphing, from the centres of trade to distant business firms and operators, the fluctuations in the prices of gold, stocks, articles of merchandise, &c. Several efforts have been made to meet this want, but the machines have been costly, difficult to manage, or liable to get out of repair.
Calahan wanted to use his invention and soon founded Gold and Stock Telegraph Company in 1867 and the American District Telegraph Company (now ADT) in 1874. Of course, other inventors including Thomas Edison wanted to create their own versions. Edison worked for Western Union and was familiar with telegraph instruments and electrical apparatus. With the backing of Western Union and Law’s Gold Indicator Company, he was able to have a small workshop where he invented the Edison Universal Stock Ticker. He was actually issued two patents related to the ticker machine–96,567 in 1869 and 140,488 in 1874. Once these machines showed their utility, their place on Wall Street was set. Over time, the introduction of electronic boards and computer displays took over the work of the mechanical machine and by the 1970s this machine was largely gone.
How did we get from this machine to a parade?
A busy Wall Street meant a lot of communication, and all of that communication generated a lot of tape, particularly in New York City, the home of Wall Street. In 1886 someone had the idea to use the tape to enhance the dedication parade for the Statue of Liberty.
It is this parade that is commonly considered to be the first ticker tape parade. The parade held in 1899 for Admiral George Dewey, the hero of the battle of Manila Bay, was the first honoring an individual. Since then, there have been many parades celebrating the end of wars, sports team victories, military men, and great feats like those flights by Charles Lindburgh (1927) and Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett (1926).
If you want to read about individual parades, Chronicling America* is a good place to start. Use the Advanced Search to search on a few of the people and organizations that are often associated with parades history like ticker tape, Mayor’s Committee on Receptions to Distinguished Guests, or Grover Whalen. Also, if you search the Library’s web page you will actually find pictures from some of those same events.
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*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.