The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is as much of a tradition today as turkey and pumpkin pie. The first parade took place in 1924 with nursery rhyme-themed floats and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade (it was sponsored by a department store after all), it was renamed the Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927. That same year some giant balloons were added to the mix including one of the popular Felix the Cat, the first in a long line of character balloons to grace the parade (Mickey Mouse would follow in 1934). Felix’s debut went smoothly until he became entangled with some telephone poles and caught fire.
Cats have nine lives though, and he was back the following year. This time round, the air in the balloons was replaced with helium so they could soar above the parade. At the end of the parade, the balloons were released into the air; a tag sewn into each promised a $100 prize to the finder if the balloon was returned to Macy’s. Unfortunately, the balloons burst upon release prompting the addition of safety valves so they could deflate slowly the next time round.
Felix continued to be featured in the parade. On November 27, 1931, the New York Times ran an article with the headline—“Felix the Cat Soars Gayly in Broadway.” In it they said that upon his release at the end of the parade, Felix started to float out to sea and pilot Clarence Chamberlin grabbed him with the wing of his plane and deposited Felix at the airfield. Yet a few days later it was reported that Felix had floated over to New Jersey where he ran into a high voltage wire and once again caught on fire.
Felix wasn’t the only cat to run into trouble. In 1932 another balloon cat, Tom-Kat, became entangled in the wing of a small monoplane, almost causing it to crash (it wasn’t really the cat’s fault; the plane’s student pilot had deliberately flown into the balloon in an attempt to capture it). After this incident, the organizers wisely decided to stop releasing the balloons.
In 1933, it was reported that Felix joined the parade, this time without incident. He would continue to be a part of the parade until 1938. While another famed cat, Hello Kitty, would become part of the parade beginning in 2007, Felix will always hold the honour of being the first cat (and character balloon) of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!