From: America's Parade
A brief history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade:
1924 -- The first parade, legendarily initiated by request of Macy's employees, includes two blocks of marchers over a nearly six mile route. The parade begins at 145th Street and ends, as always, at Macy's Herald Square location, with the arrival of Santa's float. This year elephants and camels form the Central Park Zoo march the route.
1925 -- The parade is shortened and sets up at 110th Street. The menagerie is expanded and now includes lions and tigers.
1926 -- The lions and tigers scare too many spectators and will not appear again.
1927 -- The live animals are replaced by four 'balloons' designed by Tony Sarg. They are air-filled (rather than helium) and propped up by sticks.
1928 -- Helium balloon characters are first used in the parade. When they arrive at Macy's they are intentionally released but soon unintentionally pop as they rise over the store.
1929 -- All ten balloons are fitted with 'safety valves' to release the helium as it expands as the balloon rises over the city. Balloons touch down at distances of 100 miles, but because Macy's offers a $25 reward for return, some are shot down and others are fought over. One balloon is torn in two by battling tug boats in the East River (and no reward is collected).
1932 -- After a mishap involving the attempted in-air capture of a balloon by a novice flier, balloon releases are terminated.
1933 -- One million spectators line the route and newsreel footage is shot and distributed to theaters nationwide.
1934 -- Disney characters (Mickey and Pluto plus three others) appear as balloons for the first time.
1938 -- First radio broadcast.
1942, 43, 44 -- WWII cancels the parade.
1945 -- The parade is broadcast on local television.
1947 -- Over the summer, Miracle on 34th Street is released to theaters nationwide. It lasts through the holidays and garners its writing team and its Kris Kringle an Oscar. Edmund Gwenn (Kringle), Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood star in the film which was shot at Macy's and at the parade in 1946.
1948 -- NBC's first nationwide television broadcast of the parade.
1953 -- NBC's Today Show host Dave Garroway narrates the parade, beginning a long, if interrupted tradition.
1958 -- The Rockettes make their first parade appearance.
1960 -- NBC's first color telecast.
1962-72 -- Lorne Greene and Betty White are the television hosts of the parade.
1965 -- Underdog is the 85th balloon to appear in the parade.
1977-2000 -- Jean McFaddin is Macy's Parade Director.
1997 -- Cat in the Hat balloon accident will eventually lead to safety reforms.
2009 -- Parade route is changed to eliminate Broadway and travel instead down 7th Avenue to 34th Street where they pass by the reviewing stand at the southern facade of Macy's. Accidents like the 1997 incident prompt the shift to the wider avenue, as well as the 2009 pedestrianization of Broadway through Times Square and Herald Square.