Superman in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade



Superman, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 21, 1940

A giant Superman balloon first appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 21, 1940. The 17th annual parade began at 106 Street and Central Park West at 11:45 AM. The route continued down Broadway to Macy's flagship store on 34th Street around 1:30 PM. Various portions of the event were broadcast live on local radio stations.

Superman, The 17th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 21, 1940

According to Macy's, the Superman balloon measured 75 feet in height, 44 feet in width, with a 30-foot cape. The towering figure held 9,000 cubic feet of helium and required about 50 handlers. The balloon was designed by renowned puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg. The neoprene rubber Superman was constructed by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company at Plant One in Akron, Ohio.

Superman in The 17th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 21, 1940Superman, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 21, 1940

Somewhere along the parade route, the left foot was punctured and Superman began to deflate. More helium was pumped in at 53rd and Broadway. The Superman balloon was later refurbished as Hugo the Football Hero for the next parade held on November 20, 1941. Hugo was scrapped in 1942, and the proceeds were donated to the Red Cross War Fund.

Hugo the Football Hero (Superman) Hugo the Football Hero (Superman), Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 20, 1941

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R. H. Macy & Co. formed a partnership with Superman, Inc. in May 1940. Macy's customers received a free Supermen of America Club membership kit with the purchase of a Superman Playsuit by A.S. Fishbach. The Playsuit was later offered as a premium prize from Superman Gum. On July 3, 1940, Macy's co-sponsored the "Superman Day" festivities at the New York World's Fair. The Thanksgiving parade debut of Superman coincided with the opening of the "Superman Adventure" at Macy's Toyland on November 16, 1940.

Superman Playsuits at Macy's, Daily News, May 16, 1940

Semi-finalists from the "Superman Day" event were given two complimentary passes to the "Superman Adventure" at Toyland. The live show was produced by R.A. Fine Promotions. Holiday season attendance was approximately 100,000 visitors. A promotional image for the "Superman Adventure" was painted by Lou Zimmerman. The design is based on a "Superman Day" poster that was previously rejected by Superman, Inc.

ZimmerTomorrow Superman opens Toyland at Macy's, The New York Sun, November 15, 1940man, Lou, artist. "Superman pays a visit to Macy's." Daily News, May 16, 1940, p. 21.

In 1940, cartoonist Russell Patterson illustrated "Alphabet on Parade" designs for Macy's window displays. The series was published in Who's Who in Toyland, a poetry book written by Margaret Fishback. The S-float depicts a character inspired by Superman.

A one-shot Superman's Christmas Adventure comic book giveaway was distributed at Macy's and other retailers in December 1940. The book contains an original 15-page story written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Jack Burnley as Joe Shuster. The cover art was provided by Fred Ray.

In August 1942, a partnership with Streeter Blair placed Superman in department stores with the Superman-Tim Club. Blair distributed the Superman-Tim magazine with advertisements for boys clothing at regional retailers until 1950.

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Superman returned for The 40th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 24, 1966. The second Superman balloon was 65 feet tall, 33 feet wide, and weighed 480 pounds. The 1966 balloon was constructed from 500 square yards of rubberized nylon and held 9,483 cubic feet of helium. The project was supervised by William R. Ludwick and constructed by Goodyear engineers in Rockmart, Georgia.

Superman, Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

The 1966 parade began at 9:00 AM at 77th and Central Park West. Strong winds blew the balloon into a tree and punctured the left arm. The Superman balloon appeared for five years before being retired after November 26, 1970. In 2005, the balloon was cut into swatches and given to Macy's employees as souvenirs. The head is currently kept at the Macy's Parade Studio in Moonachie, New Jersey.

Superman, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 28, 1968

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A third Superman balloon first appeared at The 54th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 27, 1980. The balloon was designed by Sid Smith and constructed by Goodyear engineers in Rockmart, Georgia. The 104-foot long balloon was the largest parade balloon created by Goodyear, and third-largest in the entire history of the parade. The 14 compartments required an estimated $2,000 of helium. The balloon was accompanied by bands performing the John Williams Superman March from Superman: The Movie.

Superman, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 26, 1981

On November 28, 1985, the left leg tore during preparation and Superman did not appear in the parade. After returning on November 27, 1986, the left hand was ripped off by a tree on Central Park West and the arm completely deflated. The final appearance of the Superman balloon was on November 26, 1987.

Superman, Goodyear, Rockmart, GA, 1980 Superman, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 22, 1984




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Macy, Low & Co., View of the Plaza, Marysville, c. 1855

After gold was discovered in California, Rowland Hussey Macy and his brother Charles left Massachusetts to seek their fortune. In July 1850, the brothers established Macy & Co. on 2nd Street and Maiden Lane (Oak Street) in Marysville. Macy's sold mining provisions, taking deposits in gold dust and shipping the metal eastward. The partnership was dissolved in September 1850, and Rowland returned to Massachusetts. Charles remained in Marysville as a gold banker, establishing Macy, Low & Co. in 1855.

Macy's Haverhill Cheap Store (HPLSC)

In April 1851, Rowland partnered with his brother Robert in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The R. B. Macy dry goods store was later known as Macy's Haverhill Cheap Store. In November 1852, Rowland expanded the business into Macy's Wholesale & Retail Dry Goods House at 70 Merrimack Street. The first Macy’s holiday parade took place on July 4, 1854, in downtown Haverhill. About 100 spectators gathered as a band marched past the store.

The Haverhill business closed the following year. On August 20, 1855, Rowland H. Macy and E. F. Cushman were brought to Boston "on a charge of defrauding sundry traders of this city out of $25,000 worth of goods by false pretences [sic]."

R. H. Macy Dry Goods, 204–206 Sixth Ave

On October 28, 1858, the R. H. Macy Dry Goods shop opened at 204–206 Sixth Avenue in New York City. The first day sales amounted to $11.06. An advertisement for a Christmas and New Year's sale was published in December 1860, stating "Santa Claus will be prompt, as usual, therefore there is no time to lose." The American tradition of a store Santa can be traced back as early as 1841 in Philadelphia. Each year, Christmas decorations and window displays at retail stores nationwide would become more elaborate.

Holiday Exhibition of Dolls in a Window at Macy's, December 1876

In 1862, Macy rebranded the business with a five-point red star based on his arm tattoo. The store was expanded and reopened on September 25, 1872, as R. H. Macy & Co.'s Grand Central Fancy Goods Establishment. Following a new partnership in 1875, offices were opened in Paris and Belfast. On March 29, 1877, Rowland H. Macy died of Bright's disease while seeking medical treatment in Paris.

Each holiday season from 1882–1901, the storefront windows on Sixth Avenue were decorated with elaborate mechanized scenes. The windows were unveiled each year during the Holiday Opening event. The 1883 display featured a procession of steam-powered dolls and circus animals. The early tableaux were designed by the Lafayette W. Seavey Scenic Studio. The wax figures were created by Alfred Alexander and artists from the Eden Musée.

Macy's Santa Claus Window, 1884

In November 1902, the new flagship store opened uptown in Herald Square at 34th and Broadway. The moving window displays were absent from 1905–1922. From 1923–1938, the windows featured animatronic marionette scenes designed by puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg. Beginning in 1924, Sarg's automatons were revealed in Herald Square at the terminus of Macy's annual parade.

Tony Sarg

The tradition began as Macy's Christmas Parade, first held on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1924. The first procession was comprised of over 1,000 Macy's employees marching with bands, circus performers, and animals from Central Zoo. Horse-drawn floats were designed by Sarg based on nursery rhymes that included the Old Lady in the Shoe, Little Red Riding Hood, Little Miss Muffet, and the Three Men in a Tub.

Macy's Christmas Parade, Newark Ledger, 1924

The first parade departed at 9:00 AM from Convent and 145th Street in Harlem, winding down Broadway to 34th. The original route was about six miles and the column was two blocks in length. Around noon, an estimated 10,000 people gathered in Herald Square as Santa Claus was coronated "King of the Kiddies." Santa sounded a trumpet to signal the unveiling of "The Fairyfolk Frolics of Wondertown" window display. The crowd rushed past police lines to view the animatronic Mother Goose characters. The 75-foot display featured 26 different moving panoramic scenes and hundreds of marionette figures.

The third Christmas Parade on November 25, 1926, was scheduled later at 1:00 PM due to protests from the Allied Patriotic Societies about religious interference. The 1926 pageant was designed and staged by Norman Bel Geddes. The float themes included Punch and Judy, Cinderella's coach, and a biplane of clowns. 1926 was the last year that featured animals from Central Zoo.

The first giant helium balloons debuted at Macy's 5th Annual Christmas Parade on November 29, 1928. The balloons were constructed by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, based on designs by Tony Sarg and his protégé Bil Baird. Five of the giant balloons were released during the parade finale and Macy's offered a $100 prize for each one that was returned.

The first balloons were designed to float at 2,000–3,000 feet for a week and then slowly leak, but four of the balloons were recovered by the following day. The 60-foot Sky Tiger was the first to land, causing a tug of war in Richmond Hill, Queens. Some boys involved in the struggle received a book of illustrations autographed by Sarg.

The first licensed character balloons appeared on November 28, 1929, with the cast of The Katzenjammer Kids comic strip. The 40-foot beard on the Herr Inspector balloon had to be trimmed en route to reduce weight. Prizes for ten released balloons were reduced to $50 each.

On November 27, 1930, prizes for the retrieved balloons were reduced to $25 each. The reward information was printed on a postcard enclosed inside of a waterproof envelope. In a Thanksgiving radio address, Tony Sarg advised Atlantic ships to be alert for the balloons. One was later recovered about 110 miles away in Greenville, Connecticut.

Felix the Cat was the first animated cartoon character to appear as a parade balloon, debuting in 1932. The original Felix the Cat balloon was featured in the parade for two years before being retired after 1933. Various news outlets and books have repeated an incorrect claim that Felix the Cat was the first balloon in 1927. The giant balloons were not introduced to the parade until 1928.

Reports also confuse Felix the Cat with two similar black cat balloons that were released in 1931. One of the black cat balloons caught on fire after floating into high-tension wires. The other was clipped by pilot Clarence Chamberlin. Following the stunt, Macy's published warnings that no prize money would be awarded to aviators.

The parade was first broadcast live on local radio by WOR at 3:30 PM on November 24, 1932. The 30-minute coverage was hosted by Roger Bowers. Despite the new contest rules, a student pilot named Annette Gibson steered a biplane into the 60-foot Tom Cat balloon. The balloon caught the left wing, sending the plane into a tailspin over Queens. Instructor Hugh Copeland regained control of the aircraft and landed safely in Brooklyn. Macy's stopped releasing balloons for prizes after 1932.

The annual celebration was advertised as Macy's Santa Claus Parade for November 29, 1934. A 40-foot Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and other Walt Disney character balloons first appeared. The name was changed to Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 28, 1935. The 1935 parade column was about two miles long. Jim Willis made his first appearance as Santa Claus.

The Thanksgiving Day Parade was first televised in an experimental broadcast by NBC on November 23, 1939. The shortwave video feed was transmitted from above the American Museum of Natural History on W2XBS from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM. Tony Sarg and Russell Patterson were interviewed during the telecast. Due to the technological limitations of the era, no video recordings are known to exist.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York Times, November 22, 1939

No television broadcasts were produced in 1940 or 1941. Parade director Tony Sarg passed away on March 7, 1942. The parade was suspended during World War II from 1942 to 1944 due to helium and rubber shortages. About 650 pounds of rubber scrapped from the balloons was donated to the war effort. Local television coverage resumed when the parade returned on November 22, 1945.

Scenes from Miracle on 34th Street were filmed on location during the parade on November 28, 1946. The movie was released on June 11, 1947, drawing nationwide attention to Macy's annual event. Harry Antrim portrayed a fictional version of R. H. Macy.

The parade was first nationally televised by CBS on November 25, 1948. Since 1953, NBC has been licensed as the official broadcaster. NBC first aired the parade in color on November 26, 1964. Only two complete telecast recordings exist before 1980: 1959 and 1976. CBS has continued to air coverage as The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS.

The 1966 parade was stopped multiple times for commercial breaks and other time delays. The New York Times reported "many of the marching units seemed to save themselves for their brief appearance before the cameras, which were set up in Herald Square." The window display unveiling gradually became overshadowed by the television productions.

In 1981, Kemp Balloons, Inc. of Maryland replaced Goodyear as the balloon manufacturer. From 1984–2019, the balloons were constructed by Raven Aerostar.

The wind is always a concern for handlers and many balloons have been damaged by the trees of Central Park West. In 1971, heavy rain and wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour caused the balloons to be removed from the parade for safety concerns. In 1993, high winds sent a 64-foot Sonic the Hedgehog balloon into a lamp post, injuring two people. In 1997, a Cat in the Hat balloon crashed into a street light, leaving one woman in a 22-day coma. After the incident, balloons over 70 feet in height, or 78 feet in length, were banned from the event. In 2005, a 40-foot M&M balloon was grounded after injuring two spectators.



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Zimmerman, Lou, artist. "Tomorrow Superman Opens Toyland at Macy's." The New York Sun, 15 November 1940, p. 14.



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