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Photos: Old photos of Philly’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Philly hosted the first Thanksgiving parade in 1920

Philly’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the oldest in the country, dating back to 1920.
Images courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University Libraries. Philadelphia, PA

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated with the most recent information.

The Macy’s parade in New York often gets all the attention and credit on Thanksgiving Day, but not many people realize that the very first Thanksgiving Day parade took place in Philadelphia in 1920.

Led by Ellis Gimbel, a co-founder of Gimbels Department Store, the first parade consisted of just 50 dressed up employees who traveled from the Philadelphia Museum of Art down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, ultimately ending at Gimbels at Eighth and Market streets.

As the parade’s popularity grew over the years, Gimbels brought in some pretty epic floats, marching bands, and more, leading other stores to follow in their footsteps throughout the country. Macy’s in New York hosted their first parade four years later 1924.

The Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade almost didn’t happen in 1986, when the department store was bought by Sterns. Fortunately, ABC decided to take over and remains the main sponsor to this day. That year was also the first time the parade reversed its route. Now, the route starts at 20th and JFK Boulevard and ends at the art museum.

In honor of the oldest Thanksgiving Day parade in the country, take a look at some of the floats that have made their way up and down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, starting in 1954.

Children at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) had the chance to preview the “huge balloons” ahead of the 1954 parade.
A “giant leopard” float travels down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway during the 1964 parade.
A wild-cat balloon sits in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before the start of the 1964 parade.
The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin’s caption for this 1966 photo read, “Balaam and his donkey appear in the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
Hippo and ape balloons float above the Linda's Lassies Twirling Corp during the 1968 parade.
Images courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University Libraries. Philadelphia, PA
Bicyclists with “The Wheelman,” an organization that still exists to this day, ride in the 1968 parade.
Members of the Police Athletic League and bugle corps color guard march down the Parkway in the 1969 parade.
A “Monster” greets children along the parade route during the 55th Gimbel’s parade in 1974.
During the Gimbels parade in 1975, this float celebrated the Navy’s 200th birthday.
Like today, crowds of Philadelphians lined the streets along the Parkway to watch the floats go by. Here are parade-goers at 21st and Parkway during the 1976 parade.
"The Clown" floats past the point of origin for the 1977 parade, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Courtesy of Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia
The Phillies Fanatic steals a kiss from a member of the Bishop Kenrick High School Band during the 1980 parade.