The puppeteer who brought balloons to the Thanksgiving Day Parade
The puppeteer who brought balloons to the Thanksgiving Day Parade The 1927 Felix the Cat balloon. One of the first balloons to be carried down Broadway on Thanksgiving Day. (Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade/Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
The puppeteer who brought balloons to the Thanksgiving Day Parade
Lexile: 920L

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The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (then known as the Macy's Christmas Parade) was held in 1924. It culminated in front of Macy's department store in New York City. There, elaborate holiday window displays were unveiled.
Thousands gathered to see the displays. They were designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg. He was a noted puppeteer and theatrical designer. Sarg was also the artistic director/mastermind of the parade. During the fourth annual Macy's Christmas Parade in 1927, he introduced the enormous inflatable cartoons and caricatures that would become almost synonymous with the annual holiday tradition.
Creativity was in Sarg's genes. Born in Germany, his father was an artist, his grandfather a wood carver, and his grandmother was a painter. They gave the young Sarg a collection of mechanical toys that may have inspired the imagination of the burgeoning designer. But it wasn't until he saw a performance by famed puppeteer Thomas Holden, who essentially invented the marionette, that Sarg found his calling. He began experimenting with puppet designs and stagings around 1917. He eventually earned fame for his particularly sophisticated puppet shows. These included performances of Faust and Don Quixote.
After World War I, Sarg moved to New York City. He gained a reputation as a practical joker, the life of the party and a tireless worker. In his various ventures, the designer, inventor and illustrator worked on cartoons, children's books, mechanical toys, advertising and of course, window displays and balloons.
These first parade balloons were filled with oxygen, not helium. They were propped up by teams of puppeteers. These usually were Macy's employees. They were drafted into parade service. These balloons, such as 1920s biggest cartoon star Felix the Cat, were cruder and smaller than today's Godzilla-like monsters. They charmed and captivated the throngs of onlookers who came to ring in the holiday season.
Other early balloons included a 20-foot-long elephant and a 60-foot-long tiger. There was even an enormous hummingbird. In 1928, the parade culminated with a release of the now-helium-filled balloons into the skies above the city. The stunt was a crowd-pleaser. The following year, the balloons were designed with release valves to make their ascent easier. Macy's offered rewards for their capture and return.
That tradition continued until 1932. That is when a daredevil pilot thought it would be fun to capture the balloons with her biplane. She nearly crashed when the rubberized canvas wrapped itself around the plane's wing.
The rubberized silk balloons were produced by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. Their archives at the University of Akron include some amazing pictures of these early behemoths.

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Why aren't these kinds of balloons used in all parades?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • plaura-dav
    11/16/2016 - 05:54 p.m.

    In response to "the puppeteers who brought balloons to the thanksgiving day parade," I disagree that they should have done this. One reason I agree is that they are fun and cool to look at. Another reason is that it makes the day and my day to see them. It says in the article that the first parade was held in 1924. A third reason is that they make thanksgiving 10 times as good as it already . Even though some people might not like this, I think
    This is a good idea.

    • R14674
      11/21/2018 - 08:59 a.m.

      I love how much you wrote for you question. I'd like to see more!

  • jarrod-war
    11/17/2016 - 10:26 a.m.

    these iconic balloons have become such a part of thanksgiving and Christmas. the balloons shouldn't be in all parades because it would ruin the anticipation for Christmas and thanksgiving parades. And if they were in all parades the joy and moments of the parade would be ruined it would just be a normal thing you can see anytime.

  • hannahn1-moo
    11/17/2016 - 11:54 a.m.

    I like this article because I like to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving and Christmas Parades on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. I liked learning about the parades.

  • haileyg1-moo
    11/17/2016 - 12:02 p.m.

    I liked this article because it was about a boy who liked playing with toys and art to a man who became famous for his illustrations. He designed things for the first Macy's parade and now the parade is a tradition.

  • kaylal1-moo
    11/17/2016 - 12:42 p.m.

    A new fact I learned is in 1924 was the first Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Also back then it was called Macy's Christmas Parade. I thought this article was pretty neat to read.

  • madylanm-moo
    11/17/2016 - 12:44 p.m.

    That is so cool that they can keep the tradition going and improve it throughout the years!

  • ninap-moo
    11/17/2016 - 12:50 p.m.

    I think this article was good but I don't think it should have told so much about the guy who made the characters. like about his childhood with the characters.

  • kailic1-moo
    11/17/2016 - 12:55 p.m.

    This is a good article I would recommend it to other people.

  • emilyl-moo
    11/17/2016 - 02:04 p.m.

    WOW this article is great! I always wondered who came up with putting huge balloons in the sky on thanksgiving.

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