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 made his Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade debut in 1973, under the name "Toy Turkey," though many sources claim that the beloved gobbler first appeared in 1971. The float had been designed in 1972, but did not start construction in the Macy's Parade Studio until early 1973. The two-tiered float housed a large animatronic turkey who was able to flap his wings, roll his eyes and bob his head thanks to a team of three people and a series of pulleys and levers, making him one of the first fully-animated floats in Parade history. The lower level of the float was a bare, yellow base, decorated with actors dressed as pilgrims. The turkey figure itself, sculpted in part by Manfred Bass, was painted with hues of orange and red, with yellow, blue, and white highlights on its tail feathers. In 1974, the float was decorated with sculpted pumpkins and bales of hay. Another change was made to the float in 1982, with the addition of a plaque that read "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade", a feature that would remain until 1990.
This version of the float would be the one that declared Tom Turkey as the Parade's unofficial mascot, making 20 consecutive appearances before its retirement in 1992.
After the 1992 Parade had ended, the Tom Turkey float was given a refreshed paint job. Although the base of the float remained nearly identical, the float now sported autumnal hues of orange, red, and brown, with yellow and green highlights on its tailfeathers. The float was also escorted by an array of pilgrims, autumn leaves, and pumpkin pickers. In 1996, the Parade's 70th anniversary, the float was given the now-classic name, Tom Turkey. In 1999, a rope barricade was added to the outskirts of the first level for the safety of the float's participants, who were mostly children dressed as woodland creatures. The float was further updated in 2008 when the float’s red fringe and skirt were changed to an orange fringe and art-deco skirt. Much like the last version of the float, it became an instant Parade classic, appearing for over two decades, with the exception of 2003, where he took a “Thanksgiving off”, and was replaced by the Gorgeous Gobbler novelty balloon. The second Tom Turkey float was retired after the 2017 Parade, making a total of 25 appearances.
When the planning stages of the 2015 edition of Macy's Holiday Parade started, both Universal Orlando Resort's entertainment group and the Macy's Parade Studio decided to bring one of the main Parade's traditions to the Florida-based resort's Holiday Parade -- in the form of a giant Thanksgiving turkey. Mirroring the real Tom Turkey float, a Tom Turkey balloonicle was introduced for the 2015 Parade season, leading the Parade just like his float counterpart. The balloonicle only appeared for two Parade seasons, before retiring alongside everything else in order to make way for the re-branding of Universal's Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's in 2017.
Since 2017, the balloonicle has been used as a cold-air inflatable decoration upon Macy's 34th Street memorial marquee, serving as a background for the NBC telecast.
In 2018, Tom Turkey would usher the Parade down the route with his most major and extreme refurbishment yet. The basic two-story float base was disposed of, in favor of a much larger three-story float. The Tom Turkey figure would be borrowed from the previous float and was painted with light-catching metallic colors and illuminated signage, a nod to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade logo used in the 1980's, which was added to the front of the float. The third Tom Turkey float is unique in that it is built around a RAM truck, and is self-propelled. Upon arrival to 34th Street, the Tom Turkey float is showered in an array of leaf-shaped confetti and pyrotechnics launching from the gobbler's tail feathers. Escorting the bird of honor down the Parade route are traditionally cheerleaders and the Macy's Starlets, who sport fall-inspired costumes covered in crystals and carry illuminated signage reading "Macy's Parade".
The float was further updated in 2019, adding leaf accents to the float escort's costume pieces, and adding more gold, red and yellow colors to the base’s skirt and trim.
The float appeared in the reimagined 2020 Macy's Parade, giving a ride to America's Frontline Workers who risked their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic for the safety of others. Select Macy's Starlets also appeared, now only carrying the "Macy's" illuminated signage.
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"
- 2010 - Alton Brown, Eric Hutchinson; sang "Best Days"
- 2011 - Avril Lavinge; sang "Wish You Were Here"
- 2012 - Geoffrey Zakarian & 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.