1961:  A peacock float taking part in a Thanksgiving Day Parade in a US city.  (Photo by William Lov...
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A Giant Genie, A Peacock, & More Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Floats Through History

Did you know Santa has always had a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

by Morgan Brinlee

Although the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade included just three floats, elaborately-decorated ones have since become a staple of this beloved holiday spectacle. From Tom Turkey to a Singing Christmas Tree to Santa on his sleigh, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade now often includes more than two dozen floats. But what did early parade floats look like and which floats remain most popular? Take a look back at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats throughout history.

Macy’s held its first parade in 1924, although the event was not known as a Thanksgiving Day Parade then but rather called the Macy’s Christmas Parade. Macy’s founder Rowland Hussey Macy organized the parade to both encourage holiday shopping and celebrate the expansion of his flagship store in Manhattan. And although that first parade was small — it reportedly included just a few dozen Macy’s employees, three floats, four marching bands, and animals loaned from the Central Park Zoo — the event proved popular enough to hold year after year.

Of course, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has since grown to include celebrities as well as thousands of Macy’s employees and dozens of bands and floats. More than 30 floats are expected to take part in this year’s parade. Before then, though, let’s take a look at what Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade floats have looked like throughout the event’s 97-year history:

Macy’s First Parade Had Just 3 Floats

Macy’s first-ever Thanksgiving Day parade was organized in 1924 and was not actually a Thanksgiving event at all. Instead, the parade was known as Macy’s Christmas Parade and featured just three floats, according to How Stuff Works. It ended with a float that carried Santa on a sleigh pulled by two reindeer.

Santa Opted For A Horse-Drawn Float In 1925

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In 1925, Santa traded in his reindeer and sleigh for a globe and polar bears. This parade float was also unique in that it was drawn by a team of horses.

Nursery Rhymes Inspired Early Floats

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When character balloons joined the parade in 1927, floats such as the one seen here, which drew inspiration from the nursery rhyme “There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,” remained an important part of Macy’s holiday event.

Classic Children’s Books Have Inspired floats.

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In 1930, a float that appeared to depict Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputian people from the classic children’s story Gulliver’s Travels made its way through the streets of New York City ahead of a two-headed giant balloon.

A Genie Joins The Parade In 1940

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Macy’s commemorated the British Technicolor fantasy film “Thief of Bagdad” with a float in its 1940 Thanksgiving Day Parade. It featured a model of the film’s giant genie character seeming to fly (or float) down the parade route in New York City.

The Macy’s Parade Blasts Off In 1955

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A float in Macy’s 1955 Thanksgiving Day Parade resembled a spaceship and gave spectators an out-of-this-world thrill.

Floats Have Also Resembled Animals

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While live circus zoo animals walked in the first few parades Macy’s organized, they frightened spectators and easily became tired or overwhelmed by the parade itself. In 1956, clowns and other circus performers accompanied a parade float erected to resemble a giraffe as it made its way through New York City.

Not A Turkey, But A Peacock

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Call it a Christmas peacock. In 1961, a large peacock float carried a parade participant decked out in Christmas finery through the streets of New York City.

The Mets Introduced Themselves To New York Via The Parade

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In 1961, baseball manager Casey Stengel rode atop a “Meet the Mets” float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a means of introducing the city to its new baseball team. The Mets began to play ball the following year in 1926.

Celebrities Often Ride Atop Floats

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Comic Soupy Sales waved to spectators from atop a massive rocking horse float in Macy’s 1965 Thanksgiving Day Parade. Behind him came a makeshift fairytale castle float.

Some Floats Prove So Popular They Return Year After Year

Toy manufacturer the Mego Corporation partnered with Macy’s in 1974 to make a float based on the popular movie series Planet of the Apes, which the toy company made play figures for. The float proved so popular it was brought back in 1975 and 1976 before being officially retired.

Kid’s Toys Make Great Floats

Schaper Toys’ Game of Cootie, which saw children roll dice to collect the plastic pieces needed to build a “cootie” bug, had delighted children for 26 years before it became a Macy’s float in 1975 — roughly around the time it was acquired by Tyco Toys. Because the “cootie” bug was instantly recognizable to children, the float proved to be a big hit and remained a part of the parade until 1981.

The Tom Turkey Float Is The Parade’s Unofficial Mascot

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According to Macy’s, Tom Turkey is parade spectators’ second most popular float (Santa, of course, being the first). Today, he serves as the parade’s lead float and unofficial mascot. But the Tom Turkey float has been a Macy’s parade regular since 1973, making him the longest-running title float in the parade. See him above in Macy’s 1983 parade.

Fairy Tale Characters Make Popular Floats

In 1998, Folger’s partnered with Macy’s on a parade float that featured popular fairy tale character Rip Van Winkle waking up from a decades-long nap to enjoy a cup of Folger’s coffee. The float ran again in Macy’s parade in 1999 and 2000 before it was retired.

From The Air To The Streets

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In 2001, Macy’s commemorated 75 years of parade balloons with a float that featured many of its most popular balloons, including Kermit the Frog, Snoopy, Popeye, Betty Boop, Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit, Garfield, Raggedy Anne, and more. Character balloons made their debut during the Thanksgiving Day parade Macy’s organized in 1927.

Some Floats End Up Being Quite Controversial

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One of the more controversial floats to ever appear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade remains SeaWorld’s “A Sea of Surprises” float. Made to commemorate the theme park’s 50th anniversary in 2013, the float’s design featured Shamu breaching above the waves. However, many criticized the float for depicting a captive Orca and after several conflicts with PETA the float was retired in 2014.

Real Macy’s Employees Make Up Its Singing Christmas Tree

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More than 100 Macy’s employees came together in 2017 to make up the parade’s first-ever singing Christmas tree float. A new group of employees will join the retailer’s 2021 parade to sing holiday songs for the float’s fifth appearance.

Sesame Street Has A Long History In The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

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This year, Sesame Street will celebrate its 45th appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The float, which features Big Bird sitting in his nest at 123 Sesame Street hasn’t changed too much from how it appeared in Macy’s 2018 parade above.

Last Year’s Floats Traveled A Route Without Spectators

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Floats in last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — including this “Rocking Lobster” float, which has been a part of the parade since the early 1980s — traveled the event’s traditional route through New York City without any in-person spectators present due to health concerns. Instead, the progression of floats was broadcast to television viewers watching from home.

Expect New Floats This Year

Macy’s has announced the debut of some new floats in this year’s parade, including a float designed in partnership with Heinz. According to Macy’s Parade History, the Heinz float will include a pirate ship-themed gravy boat.