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37 Facts You Probably Never Knew About The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

They used to release the balloons at the end of the Parade. Yes, seriously.

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The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a huge part of our holiday tradition, but there's a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes every year to make it happen.

We visited the Macy's Parade Studio in Moonachie, New Jersey to learn how the floats and balloons are made, and just how many costumes it takes to dress the parade participants. (Spoiler: It's a whopping 4,000.)
Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

We visited the Macy's Parade Studio in Moonachie, New Jersey to learn how the floats and balloons are made, and just how many costumes it takes to dress the parade participants. (Spoiler: It's a whopping 4,000.)

1. The first Parade in 1924 was called “Macy’s Christmas Parade” although it took place on Thanksgiving Day. It was renamed in 1927.

Here's an original ad for the first Parade in 1924.
Courtesy of Macy's

Here's an original ad for the first Parade in 1924.

2. Live animals — including lions, bears, tigers, camels, goats, elephants, and donkeys — were a part of the original Parade processions.

Here are elephants on the Parade route in 1924.
Courtesy of Macy's

Here are elephants on the Parade route in 1924.

3. In 1927, Macy’s replaced the live animals with giant balloons.The first balloons included Felix the Cat, The Dragon, The Elephant and Toy Soldier.

Here's Felix in 1927.
Courtesy of Macy's

Here's Felix in 1927.

4. Since then, there have been 171 giant character balloons in the Parade.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

5. The Clifford the Big Red Dog balloon was in 12 consecutive Parades, and Snoopy holds the record for number of balloon designs. He’s been designed 7 different times.

Courtesy of Macy's
Courtesy of Macy's

6. In 1934, the first balloon based on a real person was included in the Parade. It was modeled after performer Eddie Cantor.

Courtesy of Macy's
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Cantor

7. Santa Claus has ended the Macy’s Parade every year except for 1933, the only year in which he led the Parade.

Courtesy of Macy's

8. The Parade was canceled in 1942, 1943 and 1944 due to World War II.

Courtesy of Macy's

9. The Studio orders glitter in 25-pound packages, and depending on the design, will go through 100-200 pounds of glitter for one float.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

10. About 99% of all the floats and balloons are hand-painted.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

11. And the many paints are organized by float.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

12. The hardest synthetic prop to find is cornstalks. When you see cornstalks on a float in the Parade, they’re usually real cornstalks that have been sprayed with fire retardant.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed
Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

13. The floats are full of small details that are hard to pick out when you're just watching the Parade on television.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

14. The Parade is a year-round production, and the people employed in the Studio are full-time employees.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

15. The night before the Parade, all the floats and balloons have to go through the Lincoln Tunnel.

Courtesy of Macy's

16. Every float has to be designed to come apart, fold, and fit through a toll booth (12.5ft tall by 8.5 feet wide).

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

17. The average size of a float is 2.5-3 stories tall, and roughly 3 lanes of traffic wide.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

18. To deal with the helium shortage, Macy’s experimented early on with helium reclamation: The process of taking helium out of the Parade balloons and re-pressurizing it.

It wasn’t as successful as they had hoped.
Courtesy of Macy's

It wasn’t as successful as they had hoped.

19. Afterwards, NASA allegedly contacted their helium distributor to pick their brain on helium reclamation.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

20. To test the balloons before the Parade, each chamber is inflated with air (not helium) and the balloon has to stay afloat for 6 hours.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

21. Each balloon has a flight management team: one pilot, two co-pilots, one captain, two assistant captains, and a team that controls the vehicle the balloon is anchored to.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

22. On the day of the Parade, all 2,000 Balloon Handlers dress in costumes that color-coordinate with their balloon.

Courtesy of Macy's

23. Even the inflation teams — the teams who inflate the different balloons the night before the Parade — wear color-coordinated jumpsuits.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

24. Each balloon goes through engineering analysis to test how far it will sway off-path in different wind speeds at different heights.

Courtesy of Macy's

25. From 1929 until 1931, the balloons were let go at the end of the Parade. If you found the balloon, you could return it to Macy’s for a $50 gift certificate.

Here's a balloon being released after the Parade in 1929.
Courtesy of Macy's

Here's a balloon being released after the Parade in 1929.

26. Macy’s stopped letting the balloons go when one got caught in the propeller of an airplane that was trying to catch it for the reward. The plane managed to land safely.

Courtesy of Macy's

27. Each balloon starts with two identical plastic molds. One stays white with all the technical drawings (inflation ports, deflation ports, where security lines are attached, etc.), and the other one gets painted the exact color the real balloon will be.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

28. Most of the Parade floats are made out of styrofoam cut from 2 ft X 2 ft X 8 ft blocks that are cut using various sculpting tools.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

29. An immense amount of research goes into each float and balloon, for example the Stone Forest Mountain that will appear on the China float this year was recreated in painstaking detail.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Forest

30. This year, there will be 4,000 individual costumes for all Parade participants, and everyone has to get dressed in a 2-hour span of time.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed
Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

31. A large cedar closet — nicknamed Santa’s Closet — was built specifically for Santa and Mrs. Claus’ costumes.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

32. All of the Claus’ costumes are custom-made, including each jingle bell.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

33. Most of the costumes are machine washable.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

34. The day after the Parade, the costumes are brought back in 10-11 truckloads, and sorted into lights, darks and color piles to launder.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

35. It takes about a month to get all of the Parade costumes laundered, and another month to reassemble all the costumes into their packages.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed
Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

36. Of those 4,000 costumes, over 900 are clown costumes.

Courtesy of Macy's
Courtesy of Macy's

37. When asked to define the Parade, the Vice President of the Studio said it is, and always has been, "a holiday treat for children of all ages."

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed

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