Tom Turkey is the oldest, most recurring, and the most famous float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Parade's unofficial mascot. Tom is an animatronic Thanksgiving turkey who is also surrounded by actors dressed as pilgrims. He is controlled by a series of cables, levers, and pulleys. Tom generally leads the parade as the first float, bookending the spectacle together with Santa Claus, whose arrival into Herald Square traditionally ends the event.
History with the Macy's Parade
Tom Turkey has been a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade regular since 1973. Since then, the beloved gobbler has had three major variations and has made over four decades worth of Parade appearances. Tom is also depicted in various forms of advertising for the Parade, and has become the unofficial mascot alongside characters such as Charlie, Kit and C.J., Cloe the Holiday Clown and Harold.
Tom Turkey (then known as simply the Turkey) made his Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debut in the 1973 Parade, kicking off the Parade’s elite fleet of intricate fantasy floats. Construction on the larger-than-life gobbler began in early 1973 at the Macy’s Parade Studio, with design work going as far back as November 1972. A mix of fiberglass and paper maché were used to bring the fowl to larger-than-life reality.
The centerpiece of the two-tiered float was a 24-foot tall Thanksgiving turkey, sculpted in part by artist Manfred Bass, dressed to the nines as a traditional pilgrim. The turkey’s 26-foot wide tailfeathers sprawled across the back of the float in fall colors of yellow, orange, brown, white and blue. Travelling down the Parade route with eyes rolling, wings flapping and head bobbing, the rosy-cheeked Thanksgiving turkey was controlled by three people on the inside of the float through a series of levers, cables and pulleys. Float escorts dressed as old country townsfolk rode on and walked alongside the fine-feathered fowl.
In 1974, the Turkey float was updated to include fiberglass pumpkins and hay bales to the base of the float, where float escorts, now children dressed as a variety of woodland creatures, waved to participants excitedly.
Starting with the 1975 Parade, the traditional turkey was promoted to the leader of the annual procession. The float has held that position ever since, with only a handful of exceptions occurring over the next several decades.
Over the next decade, the Turkey float would become a Parade staple and hosted the appearances of some of the biggest names in country music such as Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, The Oak Ridge Boys and Donny Osmond.
The float was updated further for the 1982 Parade, with the addition of a ribbon-laced plaque that read “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”. This sign was removed after the 1990 procession.
For the 1993 Parade, the Turkey float was given a complete overhaul and redesign. The fiberglass and paper maché Turkey figure was given a fresh coat of paint from head to toe, now vibrant in the morning sun with radiant hues of brown and orange. The fowl’s tie and pilgrim’s hat were changed from blue to a festive burgundy, and the two-story wide tail feathers were now colored yellow, orange and green to better fit the Thanksgiving theme.
The Butterball Turkey company temporarily took over sponsorship for the float for the 1994 Parade, in order to promote the company’s line of frozen turkey and turkey products. Macy’s would return as the float’s sponsor the following year.
For the Parade’s 70th anniversary in 1996, the Turkey float was officially named Thomas T. Turkey - or Tom Turkey for short. In 1997, the float escort costumes were changed to resemble colonial America, with participants dressed in breeches, buckle shoes and a waistcoat, topped off with a tricorne.
The Tom Turkey float was given a minor refurbishment in preparation for the 1999 Parade. MacysParade.com, the brand-new website for information relating to the Parade, was made the sponsor. The float’s skirt was changed from green to red, and a blue fringe (which had previously been red) blew in the wind as the float travelled down the Parade route. The float escort costumes were updated once again, with Parade participants dressed in colorful costumes of pilgrims who had just arrived in America on the Mayflower, joining children dressed as woodland and farm animals.
To celebrate the Parade’s 75th anniversary in 2001, many floats in the lineup were given elements that celebrated the procession’s diamond jubilee. Tom Turkey wore a celebratory blue-and-gold ribbon pin, in addition to a pink party balloon on his hat, both with special “75” markings on them. That same year, The Statue of Liberty replaced Tom Turkey as the lead float, serving as a beacon of light and hope following the September 11th attacks on New York City.
Tom Turkey, for the first time in three decades, flew the coop and took a “Thanksgiving off” for the 2003 Parade. In lieu of the famed fowl’s usual appearance was a recreation of the Gorgeous Gobbler balloon that flew throughout the 1950’s and 60’s.
Tom’s removal from the line of march proved controversial, and it was decided that he would be brought back for the 2004 Parade. Upon making his return, Tom Turkey would be sponsored by Big3 Entertainment, as he gobbled up all of the attention of his grand return with his flapping wings and bobbing head.
The Tom Turkey float was, once again, given a minor refurbishment for his appearance in the 2008 Parade. The red float skirt was replaced with a variant which payed homage to patterns found in Native American artwork through vibrant colors of orange, green and blue, in addition to an orange fringe taking place of the blue fringe.
The Food Network took over sponsorship duties for Tom Turkey the following year, thus beginning the short-lived tradition of celebrity chefs and cooking personalities joining Tom on the annual turkey trot. The Cooking Channel, a subsidiary of the Food Network, briefly sponsored Tom in the 2011 Parade, but ultimately the Food Network themselves took over again in 2012. Macy’s took over sponsorship once again the following year.
The 2015 edition of Macy’s Holiday Parade debuted an inflatable version of Tom Turkey, kicking off the line of march similar to his float counterpart. Former Parade executive producer Amy Kule stated that they wanted a way to bring even more magic of the Macy’s Parade to Universal Orlando Resort. The decision was eventually made that Tom Turkey would fly south for the holidays and appear in the daily Parade through a two-story tall “balloonicle” - a Macy’s original creation that combines a balloon figure and a utility vehicle. The balloonicle was retired after the 2016 Holiday Parade season, as an overhaul of the procession, named Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s, debuted in November 2017 with an all-new cast of character balloons and floats.
Following the balloonicle’s retirement from Macy’s Holiday Parade, it would later be used in a display on Macy’s 34th Street memorial marquee, which served as a backdrop to the 2017 NBC Parade telecast. Since then, Tom Turkey’s inflatable counterpart has sat perched on the marquee every Thanksgiving week, overlooking the fall festivities.
Bravo’s Top Chef was named the sponsor of the Tom Turkey float for the 2017 Parade, and featured stars of the television program, including host Padma Lakshmi and lead judge Tom Colicchio. Following this procession, the second Tom Turkey float was retired, making over two dozen appearances in total.
Tom Turkey returned to the line of march for the 2018 Parade, debuting his biggest redesign yet. Planning of the revamp lasted throughout the spring and summer of 2018, with design work done by former Macy’s concept artist Jennifer Palmer. The talented team of artisans and craftspeople at Macy’s Parade Studio worked tirelessly, culminating with a title float of the famous fowl that rose more than three stories above the ground. Tom Turkey also pulled his own weight, as the design is self-propelled thanks to a specially designed rigging and horsepower of RAM Trucks.
Shimmering in the Thanksgiving morning sun, Tom Turkey was given a fresh coat of paint from head to toe with eye-catching metallic colors. The giant gobbler was elevated as the float base rose three tiers above the ground, accented with fall leaves and shiny gold fringe. Illuminated signage at the front of the float touts the name of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with velvet red pennants at the back of the float blowing in the fall breeze. On Parade day, Tom Turkey was escorted en route to 34th Street by an array of autumn leaves and exuberant cheerleaders with his eyes rolling, wings flapping and head bobbing. A group of dancing showgirls, known as the Macy’s Starlets, kicked off the opening unit with star-spangled signage that spelled out “Macy’s Parade”.
Upon his arrival to 34th Street, Tom Turkey annually arrives in a flurry of leaf-shaped confetti and ignites his tail feathers with pyrotechnics. The Opening Macy’s Star balloons shoot down the Parade route behind Tom, serving as a golden backdrop to a magical moment.
In 2019, the float was given yet another facelift. The signage at the front of the float was shortened to simply “Macy’s Parade”, and the leaf accents were replaced with gold and bronze metallic, outlined in the Parade’s signature colors of red and yellow with sparkling stars sprinkled throughout. The Macy’s Starlets were updated to sport gorgeous autumnal costumes covered in crystals and fall leaves, carrying illuminated signage that spells out “Macy’s Parade”.
Tom Turkey kicked off the festivities as the lead float in the 2020 Parade, giving a ride to several of America’s frontline heroes, who put their lives and safety on the line to help others during the tumultuous year of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. A scaled-down sextet of Macy’s Starlets carried the “Macy’s” illuminated signage as they led old Tom all the way down 34th Street.
Listed below are the guest stars that have appeared/performed on the float, alongside the respective songs which they sang during the NBC Parade telecast.
- 1973 - George Jones & Tammy Wynette, sang "We're Gonna Hold On"
- 1974 - Howard Keel
- 1975 - Dolly Parton; sang "Love Is Like A Butterfly"
- 1976 - The Cast of the New Howdy Doody Show; sang ""A Howdy Doody Christmas"
- 1977 - Mel Tillis
- 1978 - The Oakridge Boys; sang "You're the One (in a Million)"
- 1979 - Mickey Rooney; sang "Silver Bells"
- 1980 - Sister Sledge; sang "We Are Family"
- 1981 - Donny Osmond; sang "Give My Regards To Broadway"
- 1982 - Keith Carradine
- 1983 - Charley Pride; sang "Down in Louisiana"
- 1984 - Dionne Warwick
- 1985 - Janie Fricke; sang "If the Fall Don't Get You"
- 1986 - Crystal Gayle; sang "Walking In A Winter Wonderland"
- 1987 - Rita Coolidge; sang "Higher and Higher"
- 1988 - Tanya Trucker; sang "Highway Robbery"
- 1989 - Clint Black; sang "Straight from the Factory"
- 1990 - Garth and Sandy Brooks; sang "Two Of A Kind"
- 1991 - Charlie Daniels; sang "Little Folks"
- 1992 - Mac Davis; sang "Never Met A Man I Didn't Like"
Tom Turkey (1993)
- 1994 - Sheri Lewis; Lambchop & Charlie Horse, sang "Don't Just Sit There"
- 1995 - Shania Twain; sang "Any Man Of Mine"
- 1996 - Bo Diddley; sang "Bo Diddley Is Crazy"
- 1997 - Sheri Lewis & Charlie Horse; sang "I Love The Macy's Parade"
- 1998 - Martina McBride; sang "Happy Girl"
- 1999 - Susan Lucci
- 2000 - The Corrs; sang "Breathless"
- 2001 - Willard Scott
- 2004 - Julie Roberts; sang "You Ain't Down Home"
- 2009 - Sunny Anderson, Anne Burrell and Claire Robinson
- 2010 - Alton Brown with Eric Hutchinson; sang "Best Days"
- 2011 - Gabriel Corcos and Debi Mazar with Avril Lavinge; sang "Wish You Were Here"
- 2012 - Geoffrey Zakarian and Robin Hall
- 2013-2016 - Sandra Lee
- 2017 - Padma Lakshmi & Tom Colicchio from Bravo's Top Chef
Tom Turkey (2018)
- 2020 - America's Frontline Heroes
Appearances in popular culture
- Stock footage of the original Tom Turkey float was shown in the 1992 show, Love & War during the Season 2 Episode 10 titled "I Love a Parade".
- The Tom Turkey float, alongside many other Parade units such as the Jolly Polly Pirate Ship and the Yellow Macy's Stars, were among some of the items that made a cameo in the 2011 film, Tower Heist.
- In the MAD episode "The Bourne Leg-A-Turkey", during the ending scene, when the Talking Turkey was driving his motorcycle upon freedom, he notices a road closure for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade taking place, with Tom Turkey making a cameo in the scene. Coincidentally, in this segment, Tom Turkey was seen as a self-propelled float bearing the Parade's logo on it, yet this feature would later be used for the real float in 2018.