Can You Believe They Did THIS With Thanksgiving Parade Balloons In 1920s?

The 1920s and 30s were a wild time for Thanksgiving parade balloons. If only they could talk, the stories of living their best lives on the run would be told.

While many people make it a tradition to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade each year, either from the sidewalks in New York City or in the comfort and warmth of their own homes, many people are unaware of how things were done in the early days of the parade. One of these interesting things being how the balloons were handled at the end of the parade route.

A Surprising Fact About Thanksgiving Parade Balloons From The Early Years Of The Parade


The world-famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn’t always a large spectacle with tons of entertainment, floats and big balloons. In fact, the first year of the parade didn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving.

In 1924, employees of Macy’s flagship location at Broadway and 34th Street organized a Christmas parade that features bands, floats, and zoo animals. It started way up at 145th Street and concluded with Santa Clause and the unveiling of the store’s Christmas windows. It wasn’t until three years later that it was switched to the Thanksgiving Day Parade that everyone knows and enjoys before digging into their holiday feast.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The first giant balloon was introduced into the parade in 1927 and was a “Felix the Cat” balloon. The following year, more balloons were introduced – a fish, tiger, elephant and hummingbird. These balloons were filled with helium and handled with ropes. What they did with these oversized balloons at the end of the parade route may shock you – they just let them go!

From 1928 until 1932, all the balloons featured in the parade were just set free into the sky at the end of the parade route. A release valve added to the balloons allowed them to slowly leak the air and stay afloat for up to a week after the parade ended.

Once balloons were released into the sky, you never knew where they would end up. Many met the ground within the five boroughs of New York, but some traveled more than 100 miles away from the city.

These big balloons were not cheap back then. Many reports claim they were estimated to be worth around $2,000 each, which was big money in the 1920s and 30s, so Macy’s would offer rewards to anyone who would find a balloon and return it to them.

A Video On TikTok Shows The Balloons In The Early Years Of The Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Stay Tuned NBC – TikTok

In a recently shared TikTok video, Stay Tuned NBC talks about how the balloons were just set free at the end of the parade.

“Did you know that after Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they used to just let go of the balloons?” the video begins. “Starting in 1927, the balloons were released where they would eventually burst in the air. But the next year, Macy’s added a release valve to the balloons to slowly let out the helium.”

@staytunednbc Did you know the cleanup of Macy’s #Thanksgiving ♬ original sound – staytunednbc

The video went on to say that a $100 reward was given to anyone who would find and return a balloon, which would be around $1,700 today.

“This balloon release system ended in 1933 after a balloon wrapped itself around the wing of a plane causing it to crash,” the video concluded.

Fun Facts About The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

With a parade that’s been a yearly tradition for so long, there’s, of course, a lot of fun facts and interesting stories attached to the event.

The parade was broadcast for the first time in 1932, but back then, it was radio only. This meant that listeners had to really use their imaginations. Can you imagine listening to a parade, not knowing anything about what it looked like? It wasn’t until 1946 that the parade was actually televised and people from near and far could see what was going on, unless of course they were in the city watching it up close.

The parade floats were pulled by horses until 1939. Because of rubber and helium shortages during World War II, Macy’s canceled the parade from 1942 to 1944.

Balloons have only been grounded twice over the course of the parade’s history. Winds were too strong to fly the balloons in 1971 and again in 2019.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The people who direct the balloons are called “balloon pilots.” You see the balloon pilots walking backwards in front of the balloons while directing a crew of volunteers. Macy’s offers training a few times a year for the pilots.

Balloons are inflated the day before the parade outside of the American Museum of Natural History and then are just topped off the morning of the parade.

Unlike the early days where balloons were just set free, it now only takes about 15 minutes to fully deflate a balloon after the parade ends.

Now that you are armed with lots of great facts about the beloved annual parade, it’s time to watch this year’s parade in action. For the first time since 1953, the parade began at 8:30 a.m. ET instead of the normal 9 a.m. start time. The parade will end at noon. It’s nationally televised on NBC with a simulcast on Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform.

Happy parade watching, and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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