2. The balloons were replacements for live animals

elephants in an old photo of the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade
Photograph Courtesy of Macy’s, Inc.

The first three Macy’s parades didn’t use balloons, but instead live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Parade goers were treated to the sight of elephants, camels, bears, monkeys, and donkeys making their way down city streets, mixed in with clowns, musicians, and traditional parade floats.

There were a few problems with using animals. First, the original parade route from 145 Street down to Herald Square was over six miles long, and the animals would become hard to handle toward the end. Second, little children were scared by the animals growling or shrieking as they passed by. Third, live animals were hard to see as parade crowds steadily increased year by year.

The solution presented itself in 1927 when Macy’s hired German Puppeteer Tony Sarg to develop tethered balloon floats designed to be both wide and high enough for large crowds to see from any vantage point.