8 Facts About America’s Thanksgiving Parade

Krystal Clark

| 3 min read

Toy Shop float with people dressed as elves at Thanksgiving Parade
For nearly a century, America’s Thanksgiving Parade has been a Michigan staple. Every year, it brings joy, wonder, and a hefty dose of holiday cheer. The annual celebration is a beloved tradition that not only honors Thanksgiving but kickstarts the Christmas season.
The Detroit-based parade has a long and storied history. There have been local and national tragedies, multiple changes in ownership, and a hiatus or two. Yet, the spectacle and spirit lives on. Take a trip down memory lane and recount the humble beginnings of this momentous occasion.
Here are eight fascinating facts about America’s Thanksgiving Parade:
  1. America’s Thanksgiving Parade was founded in 1924. It’s the second-oldest event of its kind alongside Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began that same year.
  1. America may be in the title, but the annual parade was inspired by Canada. Charles Wendel, a display window director at the J.L. Hudson Company, was enamored by the Toronto-based Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade. After seeing its success, he decided to bring similar pageantry to Detroit.
  1. Speaking of Hudson’s, the legendary department store sponsored the parade from its inception in 1924 until 1979. In the end, the downtown retailer was struggling to keep its doors open and could no longer support the parade’s rising budget.
  1. The inaugural parade featured 10 floats including oversized papier-maché heads imported from Italy. They highlighted nursery rhyme characters such as Mother Goose and The Old Lady in the Shoe.
  1. In the beginning, there were horses. The powerful animals were the initial source of transportation for floats on the parade route. Unfortunately, that all ended when a team became spooked by a marching band and ran off course. Not only did they terrify the crowd, they also destroyed a gas station.
  1. The first parade was broadcast on WWJ Newsradio in 1931. Seventeen years later, it moved to local television in 1948, before being broadcast nationally in 1952 by NBC.
  1. There was no parade in 1943 or 1944. It was the midst of World War II and the military was in dire need of supplies. Any relevant materials, such as rubber and gasoline, were donated to the war effort.
  1. In 1983, a conversation between runner/sportswriter, Mike O’Hara and Jim Patterson, the newly-hired chief fundraiser for The Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation, sparked the creation of Detroit’s annual Turkey Trot. Often referred to as “the parade before the parade,” it utilizes the same route and has become a notable part of the festivities.
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Photo credit: Jon

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