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Macy's Christmas Parade in New York Route
History of Macy's Parade
In the early 1920s many of Macy's stores employed first-generation immigrants. Proud of their new American heritage, they wanted to celebrate the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving with the type of festivities their parents enjoyed back in Europe.
In 1924, the inaugural parade, formerly known as Macy's Christmas Parade then later renamed the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade, was staged by the store. Macy's employees and professional entertainers marched from 145th Street, in Harlem, to Macy's flagship store on 34th street dressed in colorful and unique costumes. Of course, this parade also included floats, professional bands and live animals borrowed from the zoo. During each parade throughout Macy's history, Santa Clause was welcomed into Herald Square. At the first parade, however, the Jolly Old Elf was enthroned on Macy's balcony at the 34th Street store entrance, where he was crowned as "King of the Kiddies." The first parade generated an audience of over a quarter of a million, which labeled it a huge success for Macy's. Hence, Macy's declared it would become an annual event.
The large animal-shaped balloons produced by "Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company" in Akron, Ohio, replaced the live animals in 1927, when the "Felix the Cat" balloon made it's triumphant debut. Although Felix was filled with air, during this particular parade, by the next year, helium was used instead to fill the expanding cast of balloons.
At the finale of the 1928 parade, balloons were released into the air where they would unexpectedly burst. The following year they were redesigned with safety valves, so they could float for a few days. Address labels were sewn into them, so whoever found these discarded balloons, could mail them back back and receive a gift from Macy's.
Going into the 1930s, the parade's popularity increased substantially; generating over one million lining the parade route, in 1933. The first balloon of Mickey Mouse entered the parade in 1934. The annual event was broadcast on the local New York radio from 1932 to 1941, then continued in 1945 to 1951.
During 1942-1944, the parade was temporarily suspended to provide rubber and helium in the war effort, during World War II. In 1945, the parade resumed again, using the route that it followed until 2008.
Of course in 1947, the parade became a permanent part of American culture after being prominently featured in the classic movie, "Miracle on 34th Street", which shows actual footage of the parade in 1946.
Macy's also sponsors smaller parades such as "Celebrate the Season" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, held two days after the main event. However, that's not to say that Macy's is the only corporate sponsored parade out there, as there are others. Other cities in the United States also have parades on Thanksgiving, but they're not sponsored by Macy's. The nation's longest running Thanksgiving parade, formerly known as "The Gimbels parade" (currently called 6abc-Ikea) was first held in Philadelphia in 1920. Other cities have the "McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade" in such places like Chicago, Illinois; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; Fountain Hills, Arizona. A parade is also held at the two Disney theme parks, in the United States.
In 2006, new safety measures were incorporated to prevent accidents and balloon related injuries. One of the measures taken was installation of wind measurement devices, to alert parade organizers to any unsafe conditions, that could cause the balloon to behave erratically. Another precaution, parade officials implemented was a measure to keep balloons closer to the ground during adverse weather conditions like strong winds.
Although Macy's parades are hardly the only parade going on in this country, it's certainly the most prestigious and well known. Over the years, due to various exposure, one could say that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade has become a part of American pop culture.