Ronald McDonald is a clown character used as the primary mascot of the McDonald's fast-food restaurant chain. In television commercials, the clown inhabited a fantasy world called McDonaldland, in which he had adventures with his friends Mayor McCheese, the Hamburglar, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird and The Fry Kids. By 2003, McDonaldland had been dropped from McDonald's advertising - since then, Ronald is instead shown interacting with normal children in their everyday lives.
Many people work full-time making appearances in the Ronald McDonald costume, visiting children in hospitals and attending regular events. At its height there may have been as many as 300 full-time clowns at McDonald's. There are also Ronald McDonald Houses, where parents can stay overnight when visiting sick children in nearby chronic care facilities.
History with the Macy's Parade
Ronald with Balloons
With the McDonald's chain of restaurants rapidly growing in the 1980s, McDonald's felt only appropriate to debut a brand-new balloon of their iconic clown mascot, Ronald McDonald. Ronald took form as a 68-foot tall balloon for the first time in 1987, as he floated down the Parade route gingerly with a colorful balloon bouquet.
In addition to appearing as a giant helium balloon, a costumed character of Ronald McDonald would usher the balloon en route to 34th Street alongside the McDonald's All-American Marching Band. The balloon was briefly retired after the 1990 Parade and was brought back for two more years in 1993 and 1994 and then was retired. The balloon hasn't made a public appearance since and is speculated to still survive in the float warehouse.
After having no association with the Parade for 5 years, McDonald's would debut a brand-new Ronald McDonald balloon for the first Parade in the new millennium. The design was much more simple, with Ronald giving a thumbs-up as he dresses in his signature colors of red, white and yellow. The balloon would come to be known as the "Traditional Ronald" balloon and was later retired after the 2008 Parade, most likely due to the aging of the balloon's fabric and outdated design. Like its previous counterpart, it is speculated to remain dormant in the float warehouse.
Like its predecessor, this Ronald McDonald balloon was also joined by Ronald McDonald and his McDonaldland friends in a newly-made "Big Red Shoe Car". This vehicle has appeared in every Parade since its inception in 2000.
With the rapid rebranding of McDonald's restaurants worldwide to the "Forever Young" aesthetic, a new Ronald McDonald balloon was made to follow suit. This version of Ronald is one of the longest balloons in recent years, measuring in at 78 feet. This balloon version of Ronald shows him gliding down the Parade route on a pair of "Big Red Shoe" ice stakes, as he gives a thumbs-up to Parade watchers everywhere. This balloon had a shorter stint than the previous balloon, making six appearances before retiring in 2014. In addition, there was also a glass ornament of the balloon, which would be sold at select McDonald's restraunts during the Thanksgiving and holiday seasons.
After the Ronald McDonald character was given a refreshed, updated design in the mid-2010s, a new Ronald McDonald balloon was commissioned in 2015. The balloon featured Ronald in a snappy red-and-yellow sports jacket, red-and-white-striped shirt, a six-foot-wide bowtie, and as always, his signature Big Red Shoes. This balloon still makes appearances to this day and is already confirmed to reappear in the 2020 Parade.
- In 1993 and 1994, Ronald's green balloon was missing.
- In 2001, Ronald's right arm was ripped and deflated by a tree shortly before starting.
- In 2011, Ronald's left ice skate deflated due to unknown reasons, although a tree is a likely factor.
- In 2012, Ronald's hair was deflated during preparation and was patched with tape. Despite this, the balloon made it through the Parade.
- In 2019, Ronald's right shoe developed a rip before the Parade started due to high winds. The balloon continued to struggle along the route until having to be pulled at 42th Street, minutes before his NBC appearance, as the tear was getting larger. This accident marks the first removal of a giant helium balloon since 2005. Despite this, the balloon is expected to return in 2020 with a repaired leg.
- In 1988, Ronald's face was slightly deflated.
- In 1989, Ronald's right hand was partially bent.
- In 1994, Ronald's left shoe was marginally bent.
- In 2013, the third balloon's ice skates received paint damage, possibly from being lowered to the ground.
- In 1993, Ronald was going to have a NBC camera but it was scrapped.
- The first version, Dudley the Dragon, and the second version of Olive Oyl are the only giant balloons that are holding balloons.
- The fourth version is the only design of Ronald McDonald that has been removed from the parade.