Thomas the Tank Engine is a fictional anthropomorphized steam locomotive in The Railway Series books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son, Christopher, published from 1945. He became the most popular and famous character in the series and is the titular protagonist in the accompanying television spin-off series Thomas & Friends.
Thomas is a steam engine and has a number 1 painted on his side. All of the locomotives in The Railway Series were based on prototypical engines; Thomas has origins in the E2 Class designed by Lawson Billinton in 1913. Thomas first appeared in 1946 in the 2nd book in the series, Thomas the Tank Engine, and was the focus of the 4 short stories contained within. Thomas's best friends are Percy and Toby.
In 1979, British writer/producer Britt Allcroft came across the books, and arranged a deal to bring the stories to life as the TV series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (later simplified to Thomas & Friends). The programme became an award-winning hit around the world, with a vast range of spinoff commercial products.
History with the Macy's Parade
According to multiple Parade sources, Thomas the Tank Engine was one of the Parade Studio's most challenging balloons to create, taking eight and a half months from pencil sketch to over-sized locomotive. As outlined by many news articles, Thomas was originally going to debut in 2014 as a balloonicle, but it was later decided that the Parade would accept the challenge to transform Thomas into a giant helium balloon. The results turned out to be a huge success, resulting in a major achievement. According to John Piper, Thomas was “one of the Parade Studio’s greatest achievements they’ve ever made.”
After eight and a half months of hard work, it yielded a 47-foot tall, 51-foot long and 23-foot wide balloon of the ever-popular tank engine. Of note, Thomas was one of the heaviest balloons in the Parade’s history, weighing at exactly 450 pounds, and required the most helium out of any balloon in the Parade's history, with more than the 21,700 cubic feet of helium needed to fill Dexter. The Thomas balloon's debut in 2014 was also to help celebrate his 70th birthday, alongside the opening of the world's first Thomas Land amusement park outside Boston.
To help promote his Parade debut in 2014, the studio behind Thomas and Friends launched an animated short produced by Spider-Eye Animation, which depicts Thomas going on a world tour. This short also marks the debut of Joseph May as the new voice of Thomas in the United States, replacing Martin Sherman.
The Thomas balloon would later make two more appearances in 2015 and 2016, which the latter year was to promote his new home-media movie, Thomas and Friends: The Great Race. The balloon became a strong crowd-pleaser, despite only making three appearances. The balloon is very unlikey to return due to Mattel turning the series into 2D in 2021 instead of 3D.
Below, you will find the music tracks used during the balloon's appearance on the NBC telecast.
- "Engine Roll Call" (Instrumental; 2014-2016)
- During all of his appearances Thomas has been owned by HIT entertainment making him one of three characters owned by HIT entertainment that appeared in the parade the other two being Barney the Dinosaur and Bob the Builder.
- Thomas was one of the Heaviest Balloons with the most helium.
- During all of the balloon's appearances, excluding BalloonFest 2014, his whistles were bent.