Happy Dragon is an original Macy's character who appeared in the form of a giant helium balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
History with the Macy's Parade
The original Happy Dragon balloon first appeared in the 34th edition of the miracle on 34th Street, better known as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1960, after plans of bringing a giant balloon of the character, The Reluctant Dragon, failed to make it past the concept stage.
The 75-foot long happy-go-lucky dragon was "born" in the summer of 1960, at the Goodyear plant located in Phoenix, Arizona. Painted with six different colors, the delighted beast "flies" on wings extending eight feet from each side of his 75-foot body. After assembly was completed, it was sent to the Akron, Ohio Goodyear plant for a test flight before shipment to New York. Made out of neoprene-coated nylon fabric, the balloon was filled to the brim with 7,280 cubic feet of helium.
Coverage of the 1960 parade identified the Happy Dragon balloon as the "highlight of the parade", with newspapers proclaiming that "children squealed in delight at a dragon floating overhead". The overwhelmingly positive reception of the balloon made Happy become of the most well-known balloons in the Parade's history.
Initially planned to appear throughout 1963, the Happy Dragon balloon was brought back in 1964 as a last-minute replacement for the Popeye balloon, which had deflated overnight. After this appearance, the Happy Dragon balloon was briefly retired from the Parade. The balloon returned to the line of march for the Parade's 40th march down the Great White Way in 1966.
The Happy Dragon balloon experienced its first major incident in preparation for the 1971 Parade. During inflation, high winds caused the balloon to escape its netting, tearing his head open in the process. As a result, the balloon, along with all of the other balloons, were removed from the line of march.
The balloon would once again experience head trauma in the 1978 Parade. High winds sent the balloon flying into a lamp post at Columbus Circle, tearing the dragon's head open. The balloon wilted to the pavement below and was removed from the Parade.
The damage to the balloon was so severe that Goodyear officials feared that it could not be repaired. However, the balloon was able to be patched up and returned to the 1979 Parade. The balloon was, once again, briefly retired from the Parade a few years later in 1981.
Despite the balloon being over three decades old, the Happy Dragon balloon returned a decade later in 1991 to help celebrate the Parade's 65th anniversary, alongside balloons have had since been retired such as Raggedy Ann and Linus the Lionhearted. The balloon would once again return in the 1992 Parade, marking the balloon's 23rd appearance, making him the longest-running balloon in Parade history along with Bullwinkle.
After the aforementioned appearance, the Happy Dragon balloon was permanently retired from the Parade and was shipped back to the Macy's Parade Studio in Hoboken, New Jersey. The balloon would lie dormant in the Parade Studio for many years, being frequently tested for quality reports.
In 2010, Parade officials considered bringing back the Happy Dragon balloon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its introduction to the Parade. However, the city of New York would not allow the balloon to fly, due to its instability and lack of handling lines. As a result, the dragon's planned return was shelved. The status of the balloon was last confirmed in 2016; by then, it could no longer hold helium but was still being preserved by Macy's and being one of the oldest balloons that still survives to this day alongside with Smokey Bear.
With the original Happy Dragon balloon being ineligible to fly ever again, Parade officials decided to bring the Happy Dragon back in a new way -- through a recreation. Designed by long-time Parade Studio employee, Joel Naprstek, the recreation made its first public appearance at a test flight in the summer of 2012. The recreation was dubbed "Rex the Happy Dragon", in honor of balloonatic and Paralympian, Rex Young. The balloon initially made one appearance in the Parade but was eventually brought back four years later to help celebrate the Parade's 90th anniversary. The balloon was retired shortly after the 2017 Parade, and the Parade has since been without a Happy Dragon balloon.
Listed below are the music tracks that played during the balloon's appearances on the NBC telecast.
- "Puff the Magic Dragon" Instrumental (1991-1992)
- Strangely, the original Happy Dragon is not traditionally associated with other classic Macy's novelty balloons, such as Harold and Freida the Dachshund. The exception seems to be virtual simulators of the parade showing different decades.
- Appearing in 23 parades over 32 years, the original Happy Dragon is tied with Bullwinkle for being the parade's most recurring balloon and is the longest-lasting balloon in the parade's history.
- The original Happy Dragon and the original Bullwinkle are the earliest balloons to reach 20 appearances.