Balloons come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Whether they are small party balloons that you can fill a room with on a birthday or large hot air balloons that can carry people up, up, and away, balloons always seem to add something extra festive to any occasion. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons are probably some of the most famous in the county (if not the world!) as they’re not only huge, but they take the shape of popular characters from movies, television, and comics. The history of how these balloons have come to be so iconic is pretty interesting and dates back to 1924.
Macy’s employees, most of whom were first generation immigrants, wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving as new Americans. The parade was based on festivals their own families used to celebrate in their ancestral countries. The first parade was actually called the Macy’s Christmas Parade and featured live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. People dressed up in costumes and there were bands and floats.
In 1927, Macy’s asked marionette and puppet designer Anthony Frederik Sarg to design a window display of the parade for the department store. Sarg’s designs became the animal-shaped balloons that replaced the live animals in the parade in 1927 with Felix the Cat as the first balloon. By 1929, helium had replaced the air in the balloons with a special valve that allowed it to seep out. When the balloons were released, they’d eventually run out of air and float down where people could use the Macy’s address labels sewn into them to mail the balloons back and receive a gift in return.