Snoopy. Bart Simpson. Betty Boop. The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will soon bring together an unrivaled cast of balloon characters, along with floats, musical acts and people of all ages — from around the globe — to take it all in along New York City’s streets.
The balloons, perhaps the flagship component of the whole affair, have been around since almost the beginning. CNN floats down memory lane with a visual history of some of the iconic balloons and how the New York landscape has changed alongside this beloved American holiday event.
Originally dubbed the Macy’s Christmas Parade, the first event took off on November 24, 1924, in front of a crowd of 10,000. In 1927, Macy’s changed its name to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, debuting balloons that same year.
Old Man Dragon
Felix the Cat
Parade onlookers hit the one million mark in the 1930s, and in 1933, the parade added sound effects to the balloons. The dachshund barked, the pig oinked and the baby cried. Andy the Alligator even hissed like a real reptile. Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in 1934.
The parade paused for the first time in 1942 for World War II. Macy’s President Jack Straus donated approximately 650 pounds of rubber balloon material to the war effort. In 1945, after the war ended, two million people turned out for the parade.
Popeye made his debut in 1957 in a rain-soaked spectacle. Macy's recalls the rain filled up his hat and weighed it down so far that it eventually poured the water out, snapping it back up. The following year was tricky, with the nation’s helium supply running low due to the Cold War and space race, according to the US Army. This required balloons to be displayed using cranes.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated just days before the 1963 parade. While the nation mourned, the show went on. In 1968, Macy’s presented Snoopy for the first time as a Flying Ace and he has since become the longest running balloon in the parade.
The parade was grounded in 1971 because of a torrential downpour that would have made balloon flight perilous.
Kermit the Frog
Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse
Macy’s ended its partnership with Goodyear and balloon production moved in-house under designer Manfred Bass. The parade was hit with its first snowstorm in 1989, stranding some balloon handlers and necessitating some cheerleaders to pinch hit on balloon duty.
America’s bad boy Bart Simpson debuted in 1990. The 1997 parade experienced extreme winds, with gusts reaching 40 mph. One balloon struck a lamppost and knocked it into the crowd, hitting a woman who suffered a fractured skull. Rules were introduced to ground balloons at winds over 32 mph.
Clifford the Big Red Dog
Charlie Brown, trying to kick a football, debuted in 2002. The balloon was 53-feet-long, 29-feet-wide and nearly 51-feet-tall and was filled with 13,330 cubic feet of helium.
Keith Haring Art
Kung Fu Panda took flight for the first time in 2010. Street artist Kaws also created a 41-foot-long balloon. In 2019, balloons were forced to fly low because of high winds; some were only a few feet off the ground.
Kung Fu Panda
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
In 2020, the parade was a TV-only event as the Covid-19 pandemic kept crowds home because of safety concerns. In recent years, 3.5 million people have lined the streets to watch. The 2023 parade will feature seven new balloons, according to the Macy's parade site.
Stuart the Minion
Pikachu and Eevee
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux
Courtesy Macy’s; AP
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images; Goodyear/The University of Akron
Courtesy Macy’s; Weegee/Getty Images; John Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images; William Quinn/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images; AP
Courtesy Macy’s; Ira Berger/Alamy Stock Photo; James Garrett/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images; Stan Wolfson/Newsday RM/Getty Images
Courtesy Macy’s; Elliott Erwitt/Magnum; Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux
Courtesy Macy’s; Bebeto Matthews/AP; Burt Glinn/Magnum; Hiroji Kubota/Magnum
Courtesy Macy’s; Jeff Christensen/Reuters; Joe Kohen/Getty Images; Mario Tama/Getty Images
Carlo Allegri/Reuters; Andres Kudacki/AP; Courtesy Macy’s
Julia Nikhinson/AP; Ted Shaffrey/AP; Andres Kudacki/AP; Charles Sykes/AP