February 4, 2016

A History of Peanuts Balloons in the Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

(This special post is by 5CP Associate Editor Gayna Lamb-Bang.)

After watching last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and anticipating the oversized balloons of our pals Snoopy and Woodstock, I wondered about the Peanuts balloon legacy in this annual celebration.

1968 WWI Flying Ace Snoopy
I quickly discovered that information was both scarce, and frequently inaccurate.

In the interests, then, of providing an authoritative chronology of the association between Macy’s and the Peanuts gang, I spent considerable time researching the topic. The goal was to find and provide an absolutely accurate listing, at all times cross-checked with photos and news coverage from reputable sources.

Let’s start with a few fun facts:

• New York City’s famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade began in 1924, complete with live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Beginning in 1927 — not 1928, as numerous Internet sites incorrectly claim — the live animals were replaced by large balloons designed by famed puppeteer Tony Sarg, and built by Bil Baird. A terrific Smithsonian Magazine article profiled Sarg in November 2013, and the Norman Rockwell Museum mounted a delightful exhibit devoted to him from June 10 through November 5, 2023.

• Snoopy, in various personas, has been in this parade more than any other character. 

Newspaper ad for the 1969 parade
• The average height of the large balloons, like our pal Snoopy, is roughly six stories.

• The ground-based balloon handlers must weigh at least 125 pounds.

• For many year's, Macy's promoted the parade with detailed, full-page newspaper ads that sometimes even listed the scheduled balloons and floats.  

• Until 2011, the floats and balloons were built in a former Tootsie Roll factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. The parade construction facility then moved to a larger warehouse in Carlstadt, also in New Jersey. 

• During the very early hours of parade day, everything travels through the Lincoln Tunnel, to get to the parade’s starting point in Manhattan. Once there, the balloons are inflated with a mix of helium and outside air, just a few hours before the parade begins.

• These days, roughly 2 million spectators line the streets of Manhattan, to view the parade. The event lasts approximately three hours, and covers two and a half miles.

Now, back to our favorite beagle:

1969 Astronaut Snoopy
The big moment for Peanuts fans came when Snoopy debuted as a giant balloon in 1968, in the 43rd parade. This first incarnation was as the WWI Flying Ace, complete with a green aviator cap and brown goggles.

Snoopy switched costumes in 1969, in honor of the Apollo 11 moon mission; he became Astronaut Snoopy, with a white suit and blue oxygen tank. (Oddly, he lacked a protective helmet, which sharp-eyed fans have commented on ever since!)

Astronaut Snoopy was featured through 1977, inclusive, although he was unintentionally missing in action twice. All the balloons were grounded in 1971, due to excessively strong winds. Snoopy fared a bit better in 1975, making it partway through the parade route, until he and two other balloons were grounded, again due to heavy winds.

Starting in 1978, and continuing through 1986, inclusive, Snoopy once again resumed his WWI Flying Ace persona (the original 1968 balloon) … but this run was fraught with peril.

Snoopy missed the 1980 parade due to a “broken leg.” These large balloons are built with separate chambers, so that the entire balloon is not affected by damage to one part, such as a leg. Even though he could have flown, his appearance would have upset his fans.

1987 Skating Snoopy
Snoopy was back in the parade in 1981 … but with what looked like a giant garbage bag acting as a band aid on the damaged leg.

For unknown reasons — as research has indicated — Macy’s chose not to include Snoopy in either the 1984 or ’86 parade.

A new balloon, Snoopy the Skater, was launched in 1987. Our cheerful beagle sported a black and red scarf, with a matching ski cap, complete with white trim and pom pom. He seemed quite pleased to be “skating” down the parade route on bright red skates.

His outfit changed the following year. Bright red earmuffs and a Macy’s branded sweater were added to this “Skating Snoopy” balloon. His pal Woodstock also joined the fun, wearing his own red and white ski cap. This same year, Charles M. Schulz’s adult daughter, Jill, skated on the MetLife Peanuts Ice Rink Float. (She also skated on the float in 1989.)

This balloon, with earmuffs and sweater, continued to skate through the skies, along with his pal Woodstock, through 1995 … with one unfortunate exception. Snoopy’s nose was accidentally punctured in 1989, so he missed that parade.

(I wasn’t able to absolutely confirm Snoopy’s 1992 appearance with a corroborative photo; if any readers can supply such a photo, please get in touch.)

1999 Millennium Snoopy
Bewilderingly, Macy’s decided not to include Snoopy in the next three parades: 1996 through ’98.

The World Famous Beagle’s fifth persona arrived in 1999, as Millennium Snoopy — complete with jester hat and horn — helped ring in the upcoming New Year. Millennium Snoopy returned in 2000 and ’01.

In a novel twist, Snoopy was replaced by Charlie Brown — and his football — in 2002. Good ol’ Chuck continued to try and kick that football through 2005.

2002 Charlie Brown

2006 temporarily retired Charlie Brown, while debuting a new and improved version of Snoopy as the WWI Flying Ace. His cap and goggles were much spiffier, and he also sported a bright red scarf and binoculars, for spotting the dreaded Red Baron. This Flying Ace continued to patrol the skies over the Manhattan parade route through 2011.

2006 WWI Flying Ace Snoopy

Charlie Brown and his football made another appearance in the 86th annual parade, in 2012.

The seventh version of Snoopy’s balloon counterpart arrived in 2013, and has continued to appear through 2015. He’s back to his plain beagle self, floating horizontally with Woodstock on his head.

2013 Snoopy and Woodstock
Fans continue to see Charlie Brown in the parade.  The eighth - and current - Peanuts balloon is our round-headed friend, flying his kite.  So far, he has appeared in the 90th annual parade in 2016, in the 91st parade in 2017, and again in the 92nd parade in 2018.

2016 Charlie Brown and his kite

For 2019's 93rd parade, Snoopy returned to space and was the first in the lineup of balloons.  An updated version of Astronaut Snoopy - presented by Peanuts Worldwide and NASA - helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. This is Snoopy's eighth persona.  He is the longest-running balloon character in the parade's history.  To top it off, a small plush version of Astronaut Snoopy was on board the International Space Station at the same time as the parade, and was simulcast from space!

2019 Astronaut Snoopy
2020's 94th annual parade was very unusual.  Due to COVID19, there was no in-person audience.  The massive balloons were not flown by handlers; they were driven by utility vehicles.  Astronaut Snoopy was back, continuing his record as the longest-running balloon character.

The 95th annual parade, in 2021, once again took place in front of a live audience. The beautiful, orange-suited Astronaut Snoopy was back for the third consecutive time, and happily traveled the entire route with the able assistance of ground-based handlers.

2022's 96th annual parade included the fourth consecutive appearance of the orange-suited Astronaut Snoopy balloon. This was a special year, because NASA's "zero-gravity indicator" on the uncrewed Artemis I flight to the moon and back, was a much smaller form of this Astronaut Snoopy.

The 97th annual parade, in 2023, introduced a new Snoopy balloon. The 55-foot-tall Beagle Scout Snoopy, wearing his red Scout tie and green backpack, with his pal Woodstock sitting on his hat, joined the festivities for the first time.

Unfortunately, on parade day, the front brim of his hat deflated, so part of Snoopy's face was obscured during most of the festivities.

2023 Beaglescout Snoopy and Woodstock
That’s the state of affairs, to this point. We’ve no idea what the future has in store for our inflated Peanuts pals; stay tuned for the next parade.

Speaking of past parades, a number can be viewed in their entirety — including fun glimpses of the Peanuts balloons discussed above — at this YouTube Channel.

1 comment:

Garyboz said...

Fantastic read. Thanks for posting!