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Macy’s parade turns 91 this year, but did you know that in the early years, the giant Thanksgiving helium balloons were released to the air?


The birth of Thanksgiving helium balloons

The trademark Thanksgiving helium balloons of the annual parade that we’ve come to know and love were not always what they are now. In fact, the original parades used live animals instead.

Short break for fun facts:

1. Humans only discovered helium 20 YEARS before the first Thanksgiving Day Parade.
2. The National Helium Reserve didn’t even exist until the second annual parade.

It wasn’t until 1927 that the balloon characters started to replace the live animals, and those balloons were air-filled and held up with sticks.

It was the year, 1928, when the sticks were ditched for this crazy, new helium stuff. Have smaller Thanksgiving helium balloons to fill in your stores? Get a free helium quote from us!


1928 grand finale

At the finale of the 1928 parade, organizers and spectators alike learned something about helium, balloons, and altitude.

The big plan for the finish of the show was to release the giant Thanksgiving helium balloons into the sky. Whenever they came down, whoever found them would be able to return the balloon to Macy’s and claim a prize.

Here is an incredible sliver of footage from the release of 1928:


Didn’t quite work…

Remember, helium and helium balloons were brand new technology in 1928. So, no one understood that when a helium balloon gets too high in the atmosphere, it bursts.

Rest assured they figured it out by Black Friday, 1928.


1929 Thanksgiving helium balloons — adjusted

For the 1929 parade, the Thanksgiving helium balloons were fitted with all-new release valves, which regularly leaked enough helium out to keep the balloon flying for several days without ascending to “burst” heights.

At the end of the parade, the massive balloons were released to the sky as planned. Special patches were sewn into the fabric of the balloons with instructions on how to return and claim your prize if you found the balloon.

And people did.


What happens to the balloons today?

As you know, no longer are the Thanksgiving helium balloons released to the sky at the end of the parade. Environmental concerns and FAA complications prevent anything like that in today’s busy world.

Instead, the giant balloons characters are taken back to the “staging area” where the helium is released through built-in vents. Once deflated, the balloons are simply folded up and trucked back to their warehouses.


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