Balloons are the signature elements of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The giant helium balloons generally measure several stories in size, and depict characters from pop culture, such as cartoons, films, comic strips and advertising icons. The first balloons were introduced by Tony Sarg for the 1928 Parade, serving as a replacement for the live animals, who had previously appeared in the Parade but frightened child attendees. Sarg, being a puppeteer, imagined the balloons as "upside-down marionettes," with participants handling the balloon by a series of handling lines as it makes its way down Broadway.
Every Macy’s Parade balloon combines artistic design with aerodynamics and engineering. Ballooning experts, the Macy’s team in collaboration with consultants calculate and perfect the balloon’s aerodynamic design. Once a flight-worthy balloon concept has been approved, it moves onto a 3D-printed model (previously sculpted with clay). This step helps the team create a physical blueprint from which the balloon will be built. From there, giant reams of polyurethane fabric will be patterned, cut and sealed together to create multiple chambers, which ultimately produce the character’s head, body and limbs. Once the balloon has been created and painted to the exact specifications required of the character, it will undergo many tests including indoor and outdoor flights, inflation and deflation tests, and final touch-ups before its inaugural flight in the Macy’s Parade.
The first manufacturer of the balloons was the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, headquartered in Akron, Ohio, who produced balloons between 1928 and 1980. Kemp Balloons, Inc. then took over creation of the inflatable giants until 1983. In 1984, Sioux Falls-based Raven Aerostar began constructing balloons for the Parade and would do so for several decades until 2019, when the Macy's Parade Studio took over full-time construction of the balloons.
Balloons have since been split into several categories; giant character balloons (balloons mostly based on licensed characters), novelty balloons (Macy's-sponsored balloons of generic characters and figures, introduced in 1985), heritage balloons (mid-sized balloons with sponsors, introduced in 2016); balloonicles (a balloon figure powered by a vehicle inside the balloon, introduced in 2004); balloonheads (an inflatable character head attached to a costume worn by the performer, introduced in the 1930's but later reintroduced in 2003); trycaloons (balloon figures riding on bicycles, introduced in 2011); and floaloonicles (part-float, part-balloon-part, vehicle, introduced in 2021).
Following is a list of giant balloons that have appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade over the years, ordered in their debut years.
- Horse And Rider by Macy's
- Head Balloon by Macy's
- Fish by Macy's
- Tiger by Macy's
- Cosmic Ghost by Macy's
- Humming Bird by Macy's
- Early Bird by Macy's
- Sky Elephant by Macy's
- Horse and Rider by Macy's
- Lap Dog by Macy's
- The Katzenjammers Kids by King Features Syndicate
- Terrible Turk by Macy's
- The Herr-Inspektor by King Features Syndicate
- Turkey Gobbler by Macy's
- Old Man Dragon by Macy's
- Joe Jinks by New York World
- Mrs. Jinks by New York World
- Boob McNutt by McNaught Syndicate
- The Goops by Macy's
- Tiamat the Dragon by Macy's
- Blue Hippopotamus by Macy's
- The Cheetah by Macy's
- The Cat by Macy's
- Turk by Macy's
- Two-Headed Giant by Macy's
- Jerry the Pig by Macy's
- Felix the Cat  by Macy's
- Willie Red Bird by Macy's
- Andy the Alligator by Macy's
- George the Giant Drum Major by Macy's
- Fritz the Dachshund by Macy's
- Mickey Mouse  (1st version) by Walt Disney Productions
- Pluto by Walt Disney Productions
- Horace by Walt Disney Productions
- The Big Bad Wolf by Walt Disney Productions
- The Three Little Pigs by Walt Disney Productions
- Eddie Cantor by Macy's
- The Marx Brothers by Macy's
- Donald Duck  (1st version) by Walt Disney Productions
- Turkey by Macy's
- Indian by Macy's
- Officer SOS 13 by Macy's
- Christmas Stocking by Macy's
- Pinocchio by Macy's
- Morton the Nantucket Sea Monster  by Macy's
- Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf/Walt Disney Pictures
- Uncle Sam (1st version) by Macy's
- Little Man-Big Man by Macy's
- The Hippopotamus (1st version) by Macy's
- Superman  (1st version) by Detective Comics Inc.
- Clarence the Clown by Macy's
- Triple-Scoop Ice Cream Cone (1st version) by Macy's
- Bobo the Hobo (1st version) by Macy's
- The Young Man on the Flying Trapeze By Macy's
- Teddy Bear (1st version) by Macy's
- Jack O'Lantern by Macy's
- Mighty Mouse by Terrytoons
- Gorgeous Gobbler by Macy's
- Observer by Macy's
- Popeye by King Features Syndicate
- Linus the Lionhearted by Post Cereals
- Underdog by Total TeleVision
- Superman (2nd version) by National Periodical Publications
- Smokey Bear (1st version) by General Electric Company
- Astronaut Snoopy (2nd version) by United Media
- Weeble by Hasbro
- Superman (3rd version) by DC Comics
- Yogi Bear by Hanna-Barbera
- Betty Boop by King Features Syndicate
- Spider-Man  by Marvel Comics
- Ronald McDonald  by McDonald's
- Snuggle Bear by The Lever Brothers Company
- Snoopy on Skates (3rd version) by United Media
- Big Bird by Children's Television Workshop
- Quik Bunny by Nestlé Foods Corporation
- The Pink Panther by MGM/UA Communications Company
- Snoopy & Woodstock (4th version) by United Media
- Bugs Bunny by Warner Bros.
- Babar by Nelvana Limited and The Clifford Ross Company
- Goofy by The Walt Disney Company
- Beethoven by Universal Studios
- Sonic the Hedgehog  by Sega of America, Inc.
- Rex by Universal Studios
- Izzy by Atlanta Committee for Olympic Games
- Dudley the Dragon by Meridian Worldwide, Inc.
- Sky Dancer by Abrams Gentile Entertainment
- Eben Bear by Macy's
- Arthur by Little Brown Children's Publishing
- Rugrats by Nickelodeon
- Bumpé by Skandiiplay, Ltd.
- Petula Pig by Macy's
- Millennium Snoopy (5th version) by United Media
- Buzz the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee by General Mills
- Blue's Clues by Nickelodeon
- Bandleader Mickey (3rd version) by The Walt Disney Company
- Jeeves by Ask Jeeves, Inc.
- Ronald McDonald (2nd version) by McDonald's
- Dragon Tales' Cassie by Sony Pictures Family Entertainment
- Curious George by Vivendi Universal
- Flying Pikachu  (1st version) by The Pokémon Company
- Jimmy Neutron by Nickelodeon
- Cheesasaurus Rex by Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
- Big Bird (2nd version) by Sesame Workshop
- Charlie Brown & The Elusive Football by United Feature Syndicate
- Little Bill by Nickelodeon
- Mr. Monopoly by Parker Bros.
- Kermit the Frog (2nd version) by The Jim Henson Company
- "Strike Up the Band" Barney (2nd version) by HIT Entertainment
- Super Grover by Sesame Workshop
- Garfield (2nd version) by PAWS, Inc.
- Chicken Little by Walt Disney Pictures
- Red and Yellow Brighten the Holidays by M&M's Chocolate Candies
- SpongeBob SquarePants (1st version) by Nickelodeon
- Scooby-Doo by Warner Brothers Consumer Products
- Dora the Explorer by Nickelodeon
- "Healthy" Mr. Potato Head by United States Potato Board
- JoJo's Circus by Disney Channel
- 80th Anniversary Hot Air Balloon by Macy's
- Snoopy as the Flying Ace (6th version) by United Feature Syndicate
- Pikachu with PokéBall (2nd version) by Pokémon, USA Inc.
- Abby Cadabby by Sesame Workshop
- "Super Cute" Hello Kitty (1st Version) by Sanrio
- Shrek by DreamWorks Animation
- Smurf by Lafig Belugium/Sony Pictures Animation
- Buzz Lightyear by Disney/Pixar
- Horton the Elephant by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
- Spider-Man (2nd version) by Marvel Entertainment
- Ronald McDonald (3rd version) by McDonald's
- Sailor Mickey (4th version) by Disney Cruise Line
- Pillsbury Doughboy (1st Version) by Pillsbury
- Hello Kitty (2nd version) by Sanrio
- Papa Smurf by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- The Elf on the Shelf by CCA and B, LLC
- Snoopy & Woodstock (7th version) by Peanuts Worldwide
- SpongeBob SquarePants (2nd version) by Nickelodeon
- How To Train Your Dragon's Toothless by DreamWorks Animation
- The Wizard of Oz Hot Air Balloon by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
- Adventure Time with Finn & Jake by Cartoon Network
- Thomas the Tank Engine by Mattel Inc.
- Paddington Bear  by The Copyrights Group
- Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger by Saban Brands
- Skylanders' Eruptor by Activision Publishing, Inc.
- Pikachu (3rd version) by The Pokémon Company International
- Pillsbury Doughboy (2nd version) by Pillsbury
- Ice Age's Scrat & His Acorn by Twentieth Century Fox
- Angry Birds' Red by Rovio Entertainment
- Ronald McDonald (4th version) by McDonald's
- Sinclair's DINO (2nd version) by Sinclair Oil
- Charlie Brown (2nd version) by Peanuts Worldwide
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2nd version) by Abrams Children's Books
- Trolls by DreamWorks Animation
- Olaf by Walt Disney Animation Studios
- Jett from Super Wings by Alpha Group
- Chase from PAW Patrol by Spin Master Ltd. and Nickelodeon
- Dr. Seuss' The Grinch by Illumination Entertainment
- Goku by Funimation
- Astronaut Snoopy (8th version) by Peanuts Worldwide
- Spongebob SquarePants & Gary (3rd Version) by Nickelodeon
- Green Eggs & Ham by Netflix
- Red Titan from Ryan's World by Sunlight Entertainment and pocket.watch
- The Boss Baby by DreamWorks Animation and Universal Studios
- Ada Twist, Scientist by Netflix
- Grogu by Funko and Lucasfilm
- Ronald McDonald (5th Version) by McDonald's
- Pikachu & Eevee (4th Version) by The Pokémon International Company
- Macy's has officially stated that Felix, the first character balloon in the parade, was introduced in 1927.
- A second balloon of Mickey appeared in 1972, and two additional versions were made in the 2000s, one portraying him as a bandleader and the other depicting him as a sailor.
- A second balloon of Donald was introduced in 1962.
- Longest balloon to ever appear in parade
- Superman's balloon was redesigned into the "Football Player" balloon in 1941. Superman later returned with a new balloon in 1966, then a third balloon of the character - one of the largest to ever appear in the parade- was used in the 1980s.
- The original Happy Dragon is the longest-lasting balloon ever to appear in the parade, with twenty-four appearances
- A second version of Bullwinkle's balloon, pairing him with his friend/sidekick Rocky, was used in the mid- and late 1990s.
- Snoopy has had more variants made than any other character, with seven in total. He first appeared as an aviator, then became an astronaut in 1969 to promote the Apollo 11 space program. In the 1980s, two versions of Snoopy were made: an "Ice Skating" version and a "Winter" version, the latter of which paired him with his buddy Woodstock. A fifth version was launched in 1999 to herald in the new millennium; this was given a minor alteration in 2001 to honor the parade's 75th anniversary. In 2006, a sixth Snoopy balloon was made, based on his "Flying Ace" alter ego. The seventh Snoopy balloon, again pairing him with Woodstock, was introduced in 2013, and his most recent version, a updated version of Astronaut Snoopy, debuted in 2019 to promote the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, as well as the Apple TV Peanuts series.
- After the original was retired, a second balloon of the character was launched in the 2000s.
- Widest balloon in parade history
- Ronald has appeared in four versions since he was introduced to the parade. In his first balloon in 1987, he was holding balloons; in his second from 2000, he was normal; in his third from 2009, he was wearing a scarf and ice skates, and in his fourth in 2015, he was wearing a tuxedo version of his usual costume.
- A second balloon of the character was made in 2011, based on a redesign introduced after the original balloon was retired.
- Three balloons have been made for the parade, one showing Pikachu flying from 2001, another with him chasing a PokeBall in 2006, and a third with him holding a Pikachu snowman in 2014.
- Originally appeared as a falloon in the 1990's