2. Macy’s initially used real animals instead of balloons

Elephants at the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade which was a Christmas Parade!
The parade initially featured live animals instead of the balloons we see today. Photograph Courtesy of Macy’s, Inc.

Prior to 1927, the parades were filled with real animals from the Central Park Zoo rather than balloons. These animals included bears, camels, goats, elephants, and even tigers and lions. Dealing with live animals comes with many drawbacks, especially when you are trying to get them to walk a 6-mile parade route.

Toward the end of the route, many of the animals would get rowdy, restless, and tired. The loud growls and other wild noises that the animals would make scared little children in the crowd. Finally, the earthbound creatures were hard to see as the crowds of onlookers grew each year. The solution to these problems was to replace the live animals with fake ones created by German puppeteer Tony Sarg. In 1927, Sarg was hired to develop tethered balloon floats designed to be both wide and high enough for large crowds to see from any vantage point. His creations premiered at the 1928 parade and a new tradition was born.