First Comic in the Macy's Parade

By | Wednesday, November 23, 2022 2 comments
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the annual staples of television viewing on Thanksgiving morning here in the US. The parade started in 1924 and became such a popular hit that it factored heavily in the 1947 story and film Miracle on 34th Street. Giant balloons have been a hallmark of the parade and the obviously commercial endeavor often showcases characters from a variety of intellectual properties. Including, of course, many characters from comics! I'm sure many of you have seen Snoopy in various years, while both Superman and Spider-Man have made multiple appearances. But the question today is: which character that originated in comics was the first to appear in the parade?

Well, let's check off some of the obvious ones that I just mentioned. The first Snoopy balloon debuted in 1968, despite being conceived back in 1966. However, in 1967, there was a float promoting the You're A Good Man Charlie Brown muscial from that same year. While Spider-Man's debut in comics pre-dates all that, the character didn't appear in the Macy's Parade until 1987. It saw a lot of use, though, being active every year until 1998 when a giant tear across the stomach was found to be unrepairable. (And while it doesn't factor into the "first appeared" discussion here, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Marvel Universe float that was used from 1987-1989.)

All right, so how about Superman? Well, the first Superman balloon was in the 1940 parade, a mere two years after the characters comic book debut! That particular balloon only appeared for one year, but it was very much a colossal appearance measuring in at 75 feet tall!

Action Comics #1 was pretty early in what we consider comic books, though, so there can't be too many more candidates, right?

Well, if we look at all the sponsorships that United Features put in... they didn't bring in a "Comics Stars" float (featuring Garfield, Marmaduke, Nancy, etc.) until 1983 and the Garfield balloon debuted a year later. What about Popeye? He's more known through animation, but he first appeared the E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre strip. A Popeye balloon first rolled down 34th street in 1957, but a Popeye float first appeared in 1939! The year before the Superman balloon! I can only find this one photo of it (at right) and it's clearly not during the parade.

Still, that was the parade's sixteenth year. Is there anything earlier still?

Macy's often claims that Felix the Cat was their first balloon introduced to the parade in 1927. However, Felix was an animated character that got his start in 1919; his first comic strip appearance didn't happen until 1923. Still earlier than anything I've discussed so far, but his origins aren't from the comics. Besides, photographic evidence shows that the Felix balloon wasn't used until 1931.

Which is significant here because we do have photographic evidence of a series of balloons from 1929 and 1930. And that photographic evidence shows the balloons in question are of Hans, Fritz, Mrs. Katzenjammer, The Captain, and The Herr-Inspektor -- the cast of The Katzenjammer Kids! The strip had been running for a little over three decades at that point, including during a fraught legal battle between creator Rudolph Dirks and publisher William Randolph Hearst.

1929 marked the parade's sixth year. In reviewing the previous five years, information becomes pretty sketchy but most of the first four years seem to center around common nursery rhymes and fairy tales. (Cinderella did make an appearance in 1926, but the now-more-famous Disney movie wasn't until 1950. The version from the 1926 parade was more of a generic princess design in an ornate-looking horse-drawn coach.) A smoke-breathing dinosaur float was added in 1927, lending a more general fantasy theme to the parade. This was expanded somewhat in 1928, which featured "cosmic ghost" and "carnivorous goldfish" balloons.

So it looks like The Katzenjammer Kids are indeed the earliest comic characters to appear in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! They were only used twice, but that's still a full decade before Popeye's and Superman's first showings!
Newer Post Older Post Home


Billy Hogan said...

This was a very informative article. The balloons are my favorite part of the Macy's Parade. I can't help but be a little disappointed that a Superman balloon hasn't appeared in the Parade for far too long, at least for me.

Yeah, he hasn't seen an appearance since 1987! My understanding is that they ran into a number of problems with leaks and such throughout 1985, 1986 and 1987 so I wonder if that put DC off from trying to deal with it any more.