Before it became the national spectacle it is today, the first parade in 1924 was a relatively modest assembly of Macy’s workers, elephants, monkeys, camels, Broadway performers, and small floats.
Take a look at archive photos of Macy’s first parade.
On Thanksgiving morning in 1924, Macy’s procession launched as the Christmas Parade.
Macy’s was not the first company to have a parade like this. In 1920, Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department Store staged a Thanksgiving parade with 50 people, 15 cars, and a fireman dressed as Santa Claus.
The performers marched 6 miles, starting from the intersection of 145th Street and Convent Avenue in Upper Manhattan.
Source: The New York Times
Approximately 250,000 people attended.
Source: The New Jersey Star-Ledger
The parade featured elephants, monkeys, camels, and bears borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Live animals made appearances for just two more parades after 1924.
In 1927, Marionette maker Tony Frederick Sarg’s large animal-shaped balloons replaced the animals. The first flying balloon, filled with air, was Felix the Cat. That year, the event was also renamed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
Source: Business Insider
In the first parade, some of the floats matched Macy’s Christmas window display themes. The participants dressed up like characters from Mother Goose stories, including the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Little Miss Muffet, and Little Red Riding Hood.
Macy’s employees wore costumes to look like clowns, cowboys, and knights.
The company threw the parade to draw more holiday shoppers into New York’s Macy’s, which touted itself as the “world’s largest department store” in 1924. It included 1 million square feet of retail space. (The store is only slightly larger today.)