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The Ultimate Guide to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons: History, Fun Facts, and More!

Quick question: Is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade streaming in the background while you’re busy mashing the potatoes and basting the gravy to prepare your Thanksgiving meal? Well, you’re not alone! The Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, considered one of television’s most glorious events, pulled in over 27 million viewers last year and is preparing another entertaining procession down New York’s iconic streets for this coming holiday.

What do people love about the 2nd oldest parade in America? Well, there are few events that combine A-list musicians and celebrities, floats, marching bands, cheerleaders, dancing, acts from Broadway, clowns, and Santa Clause all in one fun-filled morning. But it’s the giant helium-filled balloons floating along the parade route that really define this parade.

Did you know that the very first parade held in 1924 did not even have one of these balloons? Macy’s paraded people in costumes and live animals including camels and lions from the Central Park Zoo along the route. Balloons first appeared in 1927 after people frowned on the exploitation of zoo animals and featured the first character – a giant Felix the Cat. Another fun fact is that the earlier balloons were not made to be deflated and when the parade was over, they simply released them to fly around until they deflated like a lost birthday balloon.

Felix the Cat was one of the first character balloons to replace the live zoo animals.

You can’t talk about deflating these giants without mentioning inflating them! Imagine enough helium to lift 750 pounds or something like 2500 bathtubsEach modern balloon takes 90 minutes to inflate with that much helium and thankfully just 15 minutes to deflate where handlers get to lie and roll around on them to squeeze out every bit of gas before being folded up for storage.

And, speaking of handlers, these 5-6 story high balloons need about 90 handlers (Now those are some Diva balloons!)  All handlers must be in good shape to be part of the fun, weighing at least 125 lbs. to prevent fly-away, and without heart, back, or knee problems.  Each balloon also has a flight management team with a Pilot, two co-pilots, a captain, and two co-captains to assist the team of handlers to fly the balloonAnd yes, there is training, the pilots who walk backwards for the entire event, endure classroom and field training, and are advised to physically train before the parade. If you see any of your neighbors walking backward around the neighborhood, they just might have a coveted spot in this year’s parade as a balloon pilot!

Shrek looks like he’s enjoying himself as his handlers bring in down the parade route!

With so much expertise involved mishaps still happen.  In 1957 a Popeye the Sailor balloon doused unsuspecting spectators with freezing rain along the parade route. Unbeknownst to the balloon designers, Ol’ Popeye’s hat would fill with rainwater and when it was just full enough it would cause him to veer off course over the crowd, dumping the icy water on them. In 1986 poor Superman got stuck in a tree and tore his arm off. No injuries were sustained to spectators but Superman had to finish the parade with only one arm making him less than a super man!!

Popey’s hat gave a cold soaking to the crowd one year when it continuously filled with rainwater and emptied on the crowd like a playground spray park bucket. Poor Superman is seen with his arm torn after getting caught in a tree.

If you are wondering who the most beloved balloon characters are over the years, Snoopy wins hands down with an all-time high of being featured in 43 parades. Ronald McDonald takes second with 29 parades, Rocky and Bullwinkle were in 26 parades, Harold the Fireman in 25, the loveable yellow Pokémon, Pikachu and everyone’s favorite amphibian, Kermit the frog has been seen in 22 parades while Mickey Mouse and Smokey the Bear floated in 20.

A collection of Snoopy floats over the years. Snoopy has appeared in 43 parades in all different costumes. Look for him as a Beagle Scout for this years event!
Po the Kung Foo Panda is making his debut this year while the Pillsbury Dough Boy gets a new look.

There will be plenty of excitement for this year’s event and many new balloons to amaze viewers.  Expect to see Beagle Scout Snoopy, Kung Foo Panda and the Monkey D. Luffy float by your screens while you baste, mash, and stir! See you in the next blog!

Deb Fries works with the Julianna Rae team to offer the best shopping experience for quality silk and cotton sleepwear while also writing for the blog at