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  • Writer's pictureDebora Ellen Blodgett

Helium Monsters Invade Broadway: Macy's Parade Balloons, 1928-1948

Updated: Jan 5

A treasured event that heralds the holiday season is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®. From its humble beginning in 1924 to the spectacular event we witness today, the parade has been a time-honored tradition that has delighted viewers each year.


1907 Macy Department Store Photo



In 1902, R. H. Macy & Co. moved to Herald Square, located at 151 West 34th Street, New York. By 1924, the Herald Square location was the largest store in the world. [1] [2]




1924 Macy Christmas Parade Advertisement



Macy’s first holiday parade was held on November 27, 1924, as advertised in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. [3] The parade would be known as the Christmas parade until the early 1930s.



1924 Macy Christmas Parade Photo

Some of the animals included in the parade were elephants visiting from the Central Park Zoo.[4]


The New York Times reported on the success of the event on November 28, 1924: "Santa Claus chose Thanksgiving Day this year to come to town. With a retinue of clowns, freaks, animals and floats, the bewhiskered man in red, in sight of thousands of persons, arrived at 9 o'clock yesterday morning and three hours later was crowned ‘King of the Kiddies’ on the marquee above the entrance to Macy's new store in Thirty-fourth Street..."[5]


In 1928, a new feature was added to the parade, the now familiar and much beloved large parade balloons. The parade balloons had clever names and the featured balloons for 1928 were Big Turk, Wobbly Head, Goldfish, Sky Tiger, Giantess, Early Bird, Humming Bird, and Sky Elephant.[6]

1928 Macy Parade Balloon Goldfish

On November 27, 1928, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that a "Huge Tiger and Elephant Will Leap From Cloud to Cloud." It was reported that the tiger was 60 feet long and the bright blue elephant was 30-40 feet long. The balloons were filled with helium gas and would be held near the ground by strong men. After the parade ended, the balloons would be released into the air and were expected to rise to a height of 2,000 feet and would stay in the air for a week. After the balloon fell to the ground, the finder of the balloon could package and return it to the Macy's store. Upon receipt, Macy's would mail a check for $100 to the finder. Tony Sarg designed the parade balloons.[7]


1928 Macy Parade Balloon Sky Elephant

1928 Macy Parade Balloon Sky Tiger

Newspapers reported capture of the parade balloons and to whom prizes were awarded. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Robert Leo Shepparo, age 18, found the tiger balloon on his roof. Mrs. Lena Steiniger found Early Bird and Andrew Ilardi found Sky Elephant on a Long Island city dock.[8]


1929 Macy Parade Balloon The Inspector

Following the 1929 parade, it was reported some difficulty was experienced releasing the balloons. "...Herr Inspector...seemed loath to leave the shelter of the tall buildings at which he had gazed gloomily for so many blocks...He would not go up - even an extra "shot" of helium failed to put spirit into him." It was determined the contributing cause was his 40-foot-long whiskers which were cut off to lighten the load The rewards for return of balloons were set at $50.00.[9]




1930 Macy Parade Balloon Goops



Santa brought snow for the 1930 parade. The New York Times reported

"A feature of the ceremonies at the store was the release of fifteen of the comic characters and funny-face balloons."[10]





The 1931 parade featured Tiamat the Dragon, a 171-foot monster. After release, the news reported, "His tail narrowly missed buildings on both sides of the street, while his huge eyes gleamed down on the crowd." Felix the Cat® was also released and a pilot, Clarence Chamberlin, was able to capture him using a wing of the plane. Other featured balloons were a blue hippopotamus and a two-headed Martian giant. Rewards of $25 were offered for the return of the balloons.[11]


1931 Macy Parade Balloon Tiamat Dragon
1931 Macy Parade Balloon Tiamat Dragon Release

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company made the rubber balloons that appeared in Macy's parades. It was reported in 1931, that "Goodyear, besides being the world's largest builder of tires and airships...is the largest manufacturer of giant inflated figure balloons..." The article went on to illustrate that Goodyear used the same materials, technologies, and know-how to make balloons as was used to make airships.[12]



1931 Macy Parade Balloon Hippo
1931 Macy Parade Balloon Two Headed Man

The 1932 parade continued to amaze spectators, with featured balloons such as a 50-foot dachshund; Jerry the Pig, at 60 feet long holding 1,800 cubic feet of helium; Andy the Alligator, at 168 feet long; George the Drum Major at 55 feet high; The Terrible Turk; and Willie the Red Bird, with a wingspan of 40 feet.[13]



1932 Macy Parade Balloon Jerry Pig

1932 Macy Parade Balloon Fritz Dachshund
1932 Macy Parade Balloon Andy Alligator

1932 Macy Parade Balloon Felix


Making front page news in 1932, the New York Times reported "Fliers hit balloon, plunge 5,000 feet. Woman student steers plane into Macy's helium cat over Queens and loses control. Falls out, saved by strap. Pulls herself back through door - instructor brings ship out of spin 80 feet above ground." The 22-year-old pilot, Annette Gibson, and her instructor, Hugh Copeland, were in a biplane. Miss Gibson intentionally steered towards the released cat balloon. The plane wing hit the balloon and the fabric wrapped around the wing causing the plane to go into a tailspin. Luckily, her able instructor quickly took over and saved the plane from crashing. The R. H. Macy & Co. policy was that no prize money would go to aviators who downed the balloons with propeller blades.[14]



1933 Macy Parade Balloon Gulliver in Production
1933 Macy Parade Balloon Gulliver

Dominating over the 1933 parade was a five-story high parade balloon named Gulliver the Gullible. "Monsters who never walked on the face of the earth paraded down Broadway yesterday in the annual Macy Thanksgiving Day parade...Giant of the giants in the parade was Gulliver the Gullible, 65 feet tall, who was led down Broadway by 40 clowns...Gulliver was billed as the greatest gas bag in history."[15]


Gulliver had a bit of a problem when his nose was punctured and had to be patched up. Accompanying Gulliver was Andy the Alligator, returning from the 1932 parade. Andy also had a mishap when his tail ripped off and floated away after a gust of wind dislodged it. It was decided not to release the parade balloons into the air to prevent a recurrence of the incident the previous year when an airplane got tangled with a released parade balloon. [16]


1933 Macy Parade Balloon Colicky Kid

The 1933 parade also featured "Wa-Wa, the colicky kid, was a huge crying baby, reaching almost to the telegraph poles, whose voice was the actual recording of a crying child amplified 400 times."[17]








Other balloons in 1933 were Tom the Cat and Felix the Cat.®

1933 Macy Parade Balloon Tom Cat
1933 Macy Parade Balloon Felix Cat


Tony Sarg collaborated with Walt Disney to bring new character parade balloons for the parade held in 1934. Joining the spectacle was Mickey Mouse® and Minnie Mouse®, The Three Little Pigs, and the Big Bad Wolf. Smaller balloons with tagged prizes were reported to be released.[18]

1934 Macy Parade Balloon Mickey Mouse Production


1934 Macy Parade Balloon Mickey Mouse
1934 Macy Parade Balloon Pig


1934 Macy Parade Balloon Big Bad Wolf

1935 Macy Parade Balloon Indian


In 1935, a 58-foot Indian was one of the featured parade balloons, joined by returning favorites the Big Bad Wolf and Mickey Mouse®. At the conclusion of the parade, 3,000 balloons were released, 200 of which contained prizes.[19]







1936 Macy Parade Balloon Father Knickerbocker


The newspaper remarked about the 1936 parade that "Outstanding features include a helium-filled dragon 120 feet long, held by 50 men, and balloons representing Father Knickerbocker and a two-headed giant." [20]

1936 Macy Parade Balloon Sea Monster





1936 Macy Parade Balloon Pirate

Prominent in the 1937 parade was the Pinocchio balloon. Reported as "the most unique and novel ever created for carnival purposes. A technical triumph in the art of lighter than air construction..." This balloon featured a figure more than 40 feet tall and

1937 Macy Parade Balloon Pinocchio

at the start of the parade the nose was of "a relatively normal size. However, as Pinocchio progresses along the line of the march his nose will increase in length until his arrival at Macy's." It was expected that his nose would then match the size of his body. This remarkable creation was again manufactured at the Goodyear plant in Akron. Joining Pinocchio was a 63-foot-tall policeman filled with 5,800 cubic feet of helium. Thirty-two gallons of paint were used to complete his look. Also featured was a Christmas stocking balloon, complete with a depiction of assorted toys.[21]

1937 Macy Parade Balloon Christmas Stocking
1937 Macy Parade Balloon Police Man



1938 Macy Parade Balloon Little Man Big Man

While Tony Sarg designed most of the parade balloons, a special honor in 1938 went to Rudolf Lopez. The newspaper reported "One of the greatest balloons ever constructed for a Macy Thanksgiving Day parade, depicting a team of acrobats, was designed by a 12-year-old Brooklyn schoolboy, the first child to contribute a balloon design for the annual spectacle, it was revealed today." The design depicts a small acrobat carrying a large acrobat on his shoulders. Joining the acrobats will be a 75-foot Uncle Sam and Ferdinand the Bull at 43 feet long and 32 feet high.[22]


1938 Macy Parade Balloon Uncle Sam
1938 Macy Parade Balloon Ferdinand Bull


1938 Macy Parade Balloon Tin Man

In the summer of 1939, the MGM film The Wizard of Oz was released. [23]

With the release of The Wizard of Oz, Macy's decided incorporate some of the film's characters into the 1939 parade.[24] The Tin Man was featured in this parade.


In 1939, the New York Times reported "Santa Claus stole the show. Fifty feet high, filled with helium, wearing his same old red and white ensemble, and bent over with the weight of a large lighter-than-air yellow pack, moved with the greatest of ease down through the city canyons. It was probably because he had not yet decided which are the good little children and which the bad, that he kept a dead-pan face and seemed unresponsive to juvenile demands to 'Come down from there!'"[25]

1939 Macy Parade Balloon Santa
1939 Macy Parade Balloon Santa in Production


The 1940 parade featured several gigantic balloons. Superman was the largest at 80 feet in height. Laffo the Clown was 75 feet in height as was Uncle Sam, [26] who first appeared at the 1938 parade.

1940 Macy Parade Balloon Superman
1940 Macy Parade Balloon Laffo Clown


Featured in the 1941 parade was a 75-foot tall football player and and a 'Reluctant Dragon'."[27]


1941 Macy Parade Balloon Hugo Football
1941 Macy Parade Balloon Dragon in Production



1942 Macy Parade Advertisement

Macy's placed nearly a full-page announcement in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle stating there would be no parade in 1942. Written from the perspective of the parade balloons speaking on their own behalf, the balloons said "...we've a war to win, and we've enlisted, to help make the world safe for future parades full of merriment and good will. We are turning ourselves over, body and soul, with no strings attached, to the New York City Salvage Committee. Destined for the rubber scrap pile, we will perhaps find our way into tires for tanks or maybe life rafts. Wherever we're most needed, we'll be glad to serve our country..." The announcement went on to say that Macy's would make other donations to the war effort such as the helium, metal cylinders that housed the helium, and tires and gas.[28]

1945 Macy Parade Balloon Hobo

After a three year hiatus, the news reported that "...eye-filling spectacles destined to make the 1945 parade greater than its 18 predecessors." A few of the featured balloons were a 44-foot ice cream cone, a 17-foot high turkey, and a pink elephant. "...the balloons will give New York an idea of what inflation really is."[29]

Also featured were Bobo the Hobo, Ol' Man Pumpkin, Young Man on a Flying Trapeze, and Teddy Bear.



1945 Macy Parade Balloon Ice Cream Cone
1945 Macy Parade Balloon Pumpkin


Featured parade balloons for 1946, made at Goodyear Tire and Rubber's Akron, Ohio plant, were a 38-foot Panda filled with 3,600 cubic feet of helium, a baseball player at 46-feet high, a Giant Pilgrim, and a candy cane at 41-feet high filled with 2,000 cubic feet of helium.[30]


1946 Macy Parade Balloon Panda in Production
1946 Macy Parade Balloon Panda

1946 Macy Parade Balloon Baseball Player
1946 Macy Parade Balloon Pilgrim


1947 Film Miracle on 34th Street Life Magazine

Released in 1947, the Twentieth Century-Fox film Miracle on 34th Street brought national attention to the Macy's parade. The Macy's store was a backdrop to the film, as the key characters of Doris Walker, played by Maureen O'Hara and Kris Kringle, played by Edmund Gwenn, were employed by Macy's. In early scenes in the film, Doris is organizing the parade and several parade balloons are visible, such as The Pilgrim, The Panda, The Candy Cane, The Baseball Player, and The Ice Cream Cone. (Footage is from the 1946 parade). Susan Walker, played by Natalie Wood, was viewing the parade from an apartment window and remarked to character Fred Gailey, played by John Payne, that the baseball player was a clown last year that was repainted. [31] Given the construction expense of the rubber balloons, it makes sense that characters can be redesigned effectively with paint. Note the similarities between 1940 Superman and 1941 Hugo the Football Hero; 1945 Bobo the Hobo and 1946 Baseball Player and 1947 Comical Cop; 1946 Pilgrim and 1947 Pirate. Life Magazine featured a story in its June 1947 issue about the film Miracle on 34th Street. [32] Some of 1947 balloons featured were The Pirate, Comical Cop, and The Gnome.


1947 Macy Parade Balloon Pirate
1947 Macy Parade Balloon Comical Cop


In 1948, the New York Times reported "Aerial Paraders Cast Annual Spell - 2 Solid Miles of Youngsters, Parents Greet Macy Galaxy of Helium Hobgoblins." The article featured a photo of The Gnome balloon which contained 3,500 cubic feet of helium. [33] The Gnome was first featured in the 1947 parade. Also featured in 1948 was The Crocodile.


1947 Macy Parade Balloon Gnome

1948 Macy Parade Balloon Crocodile

While this article featured selected balloons from the first twenty years of the parade, the "Helium Monsters", as the balloons were called by the New York Times in 1933, continued to delight and amaze parade viewers in 74 years that followed. The tradition will continue this year, with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® being held on Thursday, November 23 from 8:30 am to noon.




Images

Bettmann Archive | Getty Images


Digital Collections | New York Public Library


Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Photographs | University of Akron

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Photograph Series, Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio. (https://www.jstor.org/site/university-of-akron/goodyear-tire-and-rubber-company-photographs-series)


New York Daily News Archive | Getty Images


Samuel C. Williams Library Archives & Special Collections at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ.


Sources

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a registered trademark in the United States, owned by Macy's IP Holdings, LLC.


Macy's is a registered trademark in the United States, owned by Macy's IP Holdings, LLC.

[1]"Macy's Through the Years," Macy's (https://www.macys.com : accessed 18 November 2023), 1902, 1924. [2] "Macy's Bldg. & Herald Square," no. 00650132, Prints and Photograph Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (https://www.loc.gov/item/00650132/ : accessed 18 November 2023). Irving Underhill, photographer, 1907. [3] “Macy's Christmas Parade,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 26 November 1924, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 2. [4] "1924 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Central Park Zoo," Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Wiki (https://macysthanksgiving.fandom.com/wiki/Central_Park_Zoo : accessed 18 November 2023). [5] “Greet Santa Claus as ‘King of Kiddies’,” New York Times, 28 November 1924 HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 15. [6] "The 5th Annual Macy's Christmas Parade 1928],"Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Wiki (https://macysthanksgiving.fandom.com : accessed 18 November 2023). [7] “Macy's Animals to Fly Thursday,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 27 November 1928, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 14. [8] “L.I. Youth Captures Balloon, $100 Prize,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 December 1928, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 22. [9] “Balloons Unruly in Store's Parade,” New York Times, 29 November 1929, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 16.

[10] “Santa Brings Snow for Macy's Parade," New York Times, 28 November 1930, HTML edition archived, (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 21 November 2023), p.4.

[11] “Felix The Cat Soars Gayly in Broadway,” New York Times, 27 November 1931, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 22. [12] “Goodyear Made Macy Balloons,” Schenectady Gazette, 16 December 1931, HTML edition, archived (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 18. [13] “Giant Toy Parade Delights 500,000,” New York Times, 25 November 1932, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 5. [14] “Fliers Hit Balloon, Plunge 5,000 Feet,” New York Times, 25 November 1932, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 1, 5.

[15] "Rubber Giant Parade Delights Thousands," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1 December 1933, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 21 November 2023), p. 6.

[16] “Helium Monsters Invade Broadway,” New York Times, 1 December 1933, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 21.

[17] "Rubber Giant Parade Delights Thousands," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

[18] “Macy's Prepares Parade. Big Bad Wolf and the Pigs Will be in Thanksgiving March,” New York Times, 31 October 1934, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 14.

[19] “Five-Story Indian Leads Turkey Day Monsters' March,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 29 November 1935, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 4.

[20] "Whole City Thankful; Says It With Turkey," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 26 November 1936, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 21 November 2023), p. 1, 2.

[21] “Macy's to Hold Huge Thanksgiving Parade,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 11 November 1937, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 5 [22] “Boy Designs Huge Parade Balloon,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 15 November 1938, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 5. [23] "The Wizard of Oz," Turner Classic Movies (https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/852/the-wizard-of-oz/#overview : accessed 18 November 2023). [24] “Base Macy Parade on 'Wizard of Oz',” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 9 November 1939, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 8. [25] “Odd Rubber Folk Stage Gay Parade," New York Times, 24 November 1939, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 21 November 2023), p. 19.

[26] “Giant Heroes of Parade Thrill 1,000,000 Watchers,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 22 November 1940, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 7.

[27] “City Reluctantly Returns To Work After Big Holiday," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 21 November 1941, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 22 November 2023), p. 4.

[28] "We've Enlisted! There Will Be No Parade This Thanksgiving,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 22 November 1942, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 10. [29] “Thanksgiving Parade Back 1st Time Since '41,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 14 November 1945, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 6. [30] “Balloons, Floats for Macy Parade Rolling Off 3-State Assembly Line,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 22 November 1946, HTML edition, archived (https://bklyn.newspapers.com : accessed 18 November 2023), p. 5. [31] "Miracle on 34th Street," Turner Classic Movies (https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/83570/miracle-on-34th-street/#overview : accessed 18 November 2023).

[32] "Movie of the Week: Miracle on 34th Street," Life Magazine (16 June 1947) : p.65-68; ( https://books.google.com : accessed 18 November 2023).

[33] “Aerial Paraders Cast Annual Spell,” New York Times, 26 November 1948, HTML edition, archived (https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes : accessed 21 November 2023), p. 25.



Additional Resources For More Information

British Pathe | Reuters

Early parade footage from news reels.


History of the Thanksgiving Day Parade | History


Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade | 2023


Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Celebrating 95 Years | CBS News


Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Wiki (https://macysthanksgiving.fandom.com/wiki/Main_Page)


The Gifts of Tony Sarg | American Experience | PBS





Copyright 2023 - Debora Ellen Blodgett

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