The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has become an irreplaceable staple of Thanksgiving festivities.
Every year, 3.5 million people flock to New York City to see the parade march down a two-and-a-half mile stretch of Manhattan.
Another 50 million people gather around their television sets to watch the event from home.
What began as a small Macy’s employee-run event called Macy’s Christmas Parade, has morphed into a huge production that requires almost an entire year’s worth of preparation.
Macy’s 88th Annual Thanksgiving Day spectacle will feature appearances from Idina Menzel, KISS, and The Vamps. Six new balloons including Paddington Bear will make their debut in the parade.
Christina Austin and Jennifer Michalski contributed to this report.
The first Macy's Day Parade was on November 27 in 1924. The parade originally featured Macy's employees and live animals from the Central Park Zoo. Floats, instead of balloons, were the main attraction.
The parade began in Harlem at 145th Street and ended in front of the Macy's flagship store on 34th Street. It was originally called the Macy's Christmas Parade, but was renamed the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in 1927.
(Above photo is from 1994)
(Above photo is from 2007)
In 1927, Marionette maker Tony Frederick Sarg's large animal-shaped balloons replaced the live animals in the parade.
(Above photo is from the 1920s)
Felix the Cat was the first balloon used in the parade. The original balloons were made of rubber and filled with air. Today's balloons are made of polyurethane and filled with helium.
Up until 1932, balloons were released into the sky at the end of the parade. Macy's offered a $50 reward to anyone who returned a deflated balloon.
Over the parade's history, three main types of balloons have been used: Novelty (smaller balloons), full-sized (five to six stories high), and Blue Sky Gallery (depicts contemporary art) characters.
The first Mickey Mouse balloon debuted in 1934, while fellow Disney character Donald Duck was introduced in 1962.
(From left to right, above photos are from 1934 and 2011)
Today, over 2,000 volunteers are needed to handle the balloons. Each volunteer must weigh at least 120 pounds and be in good health. Each balloon is handled by about 50 volunteers. A police officer also marches alongside each balloon.
During WWII's rubber and helium shortage, the parade was canceled for three years from 1942-1944. Balloons were deflated and donated to the government.
(Above photo is from 2008)
Since 1945, the parade has started at 77th Street and Central Park West and ended in Herald Square in front of Macy's.
The parade became a more prominent part of American culture after footage from the 1946 parade was featured in the movie 'Miracle on 34th Street.'
According to Nielsen, an estimated 14.2 per cent of American households watched the CBS coverage of the parade in 1951. In recent years, approximately 30 million people tune into CBS's and NBC's coverage of the parade.
(Above photo is from 1995)
Though CBS was the original network to air the parade, NBC has been the parade's official television broadcaster since 1952.
CBS's broadcast is called 'The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS.'
(Above photo is from 2002)
Initial telecasts were only an hour long. Throughout the 1960s, the parade went back and forth between 90 minute and 2 hour broadcasts before settling on a three-hour long airing in 1969.
The Radio City Rockettes have appeared in the parade since 1957. In order to be a Rockette, a dancer must be between 5'6' and 5'10½' and demonstrate proficiency in tap, jazz, modern dance, and ballet.
Broadway appearances have been a parade regular since 1980 when the cast of 'The Pirates of Penzance' were featured. The cast of 'Annie' performed in 2012.
Snoopy has appeared in more parades than any other character. There have been seven versions of the Snoopy balloon in his 38 Thanksgiving Day parades.
(Above photo is from 2006)
Over the 88-year history of the parade, there have been numerous injuries caused by balloon issues. The most serious injury occurred with a Cat in the Hat balloon in 1997 and resulted in the implementation of balloon size restrictions.
In 1997, the Cat in the Hat balloon was pushed into a lamp post by high winds. Falling debris fractured 33-year-old Kathleen Caronna's skull and put her in a month-long coma.
In 2006, wind measurement devices were installed to alert parade organisers to any unsafe balloon-flying conditions.
(Above photo is from 1994)
After 9/11, Macy's reintroduced an old Harold the Fireman balloon from 1948 to commemorate those who helped in the aftermath of the attacks.
(From left to right, above photos are from 1948, and 2001)
This year's parade will feature six new balloons and five new floats including the Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and a new Pikachu.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.