Most people watch the Macy's Day parade on Thanksgiving Day. The famous Thanksgiving Day parade is almost as traditional as turkey and dressing. More than 40 million viewers watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television each year. Many tune in just to see the huge parade balloons.
The history of the Macy's parade balloons is an interesting one. The very first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924 didn't have balloons. Instead, real live animals were borrowed from the Central Park Zoo.
Large balloons weren't used in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Macy's Day parade balloons were inflated with air the first year that they were used. Each year after that, helium was used to fill the huge parade balloons.
The first year that Macy's used helium balloons they released them at the end of the parade for a big finish. The balloons accidentally burst. The next year the Macy's parade balloons were redesigned so that they would lose helium slowly and float for several days.
Originally, the huge Thanksgiving Day balloon's were released at the end of the parade. The grandiose balloons had attached address labels. The lucky people who found and returned the balloons received Macy's gift certificates for 100 dollars or some other prize.
The 1941 Macy's Day parade occurred just weeks before the start of World War II. It featured a prominent Uncle Same helium parade balloon. When rubber became in short supply because of the war, the famous Uncle Sam balloon was donated by Macy's to support the war.
The Thanksgiving Day parade balloons require massive amounts of helium. For example, the Jimmy Neutron balloon needs 12,300 cubic feet of helium to be properly inflated. By comparison, a 10 foot diameter hot air balloon needs 475 cubic feet of helium.
The balloons are inflated by volunteers the night before the parade. The balloons are unfolded. Then they are covered with nets and weighted down. Next, the parade balloons are inflated. The whole process takes six hours. Many people attend to watch the balloons as they inflate. Some say that watching the parade balloons inflate is more fun than watching the actual Thanksgiving Day parade.
The Macy's Day parade balloons are guided along the parade route by volunteers. Some of the balloons require 50 handlers.
Popular Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons
Bullwinkle is one of the oldest Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloons. He is also one of the most popular of all the Macy's balloons.
Mickey Mouse first appeared in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1934. He has been a favorite balloon at the Macy's Day parade ever since. Mickey's friend, Goofy has also been transformed into a Macy's balloon.
Snoopy is another favorite parade balloon. He has appeared in Macy's Day parades since the late 60's. he has worn six different costumes including an astronaut, a king, an ice skater, and of course, a World War I flying ace. Charlie Brown has also made an appearance at the Thanksgiving Day parade, trying to kick that elusive football. Snoopy's pal Woodstock, is another Charles Schulz creation that has floated in the Macy's parade.
Cartoon characters have always been popular balloons at the Macy's Day Thanksgiving parade. Woody Woodpecker, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Garfield, Bart Simpson, Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny, and Rugrats have all been honored at Macy's parade. Many other cartoon characters have been made into balloons for the Macy's Day parade.
Several Sesame Street characters have appeared as balloons at the Macy's Day parade. Kermit the Frog has been navigated through the parade route. Big Bird has appeared in two different versions. Grover has been transformed at the Thanksgiving Day parade into Super Grover.
Superman has appeared in several Macy's Day parades since 1940. Superman has been the biggest Macy's Day parade balloon ever.
Corporations haven't missed their chance to advertise at the famous Thanksgiving Day parade. Some of the company balloons have been popular. They have included the Energizer Bunny, Ronald McDonald, Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, Nestle Quick Bunny, and M&M's candies.
How Are the Macy's Day Balloons Made?
The first step in making a Macy's parade balloon is drawing the sketch. Details are evaluated and approved by aerodynamics engineers to be sure the balloon can fly.
If the balloon passes the first test, a clay model of the parade balloon is made. The clay balloon model is an exact replica of the balloon built to scale. Close attention to detail is used to be certain that the balloon will be an exact likeness of the original character and that the balloon will be ale to float successfully.
Next, a second model is used that is painted with the exact details of the future parade balloon. Exact polyurethane pattern pieces are then cut. Each balloon has several chambers with an inflation tool and a large zipper.
The Macy's parade balloon is assembled and given a test flight. Each chamber is inspected for leaks. If all goes well, the balloon will be guided down the route for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Macy's Day Parade Balloon Incidents
Popeye's sailor hat filled with water in 1957. He got so heavy that the balloon handlers lost control. The balloon got off course and dumped water on spectators. There was a helium shortage during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1958. but the parade and balloons did go on. The Macy's Day parade balloons were inflated with plain air and suspended with huge cranes.
The 1971, the Mickey Mouse parade balloon was canceled because of high winds. He appeared the next year in the holiday parade.
Wind was also a major problem during the 1997 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour kept balloon handlers on their toes, sometimes literally. The wind caused a Cat in the Hat parade balloon to hit a street lamp. One parade spectator got injured severely and was in a coma for a month. This prompted the local government to implement stricter safety parade rules.
In 2005, the M&M's Macy's Day parade balloon also hit a street lamp. Two people suffered minor injuries. As a result, new rules required the balloons to fly at lower altitudes.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade continues to be a big hit with Americans more than 80 years later. Hopefully, 80 years into the future, kids will still wake up on Thanksgiving morning and rush to watch the Macy's Day parade. After all, Christmas doesn't start until Santa arrives at the end of the Macy's parade, does it????