Though it can be hard to think about November with the spring weather we’ve been having, the question came up in one of our library book discussions. Brad Ricca, in his book Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the Creators of Superman, mentioned the Superman balloon in the 1939 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One of our patrons wondered how long the big balloons had been part of the parade.
According to Kathleen Curtin and Sandra L. Oliver’s book Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie, Eliza Berman’s article on Time.com, and Kate Hogan’s article on People.com, the first giant balloons appeared in 1927 – most famously, the cartoon character Felix the Cat.
The Macy’s parade began in 1924, but the custom of Thanksgiving parades in New York dates back to the 1780s, according to Curtin and Oliver. “Fantastical companies,” as they were called, were groups of working-class young men dressing in costume and carousing in the streets on Thanksgiving morning. The Macy’s parade itself may have originated with the company’s employees, immigrants who wanted to celebrate with a European-style parade including clowns, floats, and zoo animals.
In the parade’s early years, officials had no plans for deflating the balloons. They set them free and offered a reward if people could bring them back. This practice ended after a balloon nearly brought down a plane.
For more information, America’s Favorite Holidays by Bruce David Forbes and All around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life by Jack Santino are available for checkout at the Newton Falls Public Library, along with Melissa Sweet’s picture book biography of Tony Sarg, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade.