Encyclopedia Of Detroit

America's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Thanksgiving parade has been a holiday tradition in Detroit for more than 80 years. Started by Hudson's, downtown Detroit’s legendary department store, the parade first rolled down Woodward Avenue in 1924, the same year that Macy’s began its parade in New York City.

For generations of Michigan families, the official holiday season did not start until “the real Santa Claus” stepped from the parade’s final float onto the Woodward marquee of Hudson’s to accept the key to both the city “and the hearts of good children everywhere.” The next day, elevators whisked throngs of parents and children up to the store’s magnificently-decorated toyland for a personal visit with Santa.

Detroit’s first Thanksgiving parade featured horses pulling a float decorated with Mother Goose, four papier-mâché heads and seven marching bands. Over the years, the parade’s size and scope has grown significantly, as it has entertained millions of bundled-up fans along its two-mile route down Woodward with giant balloons, floats, marching bands, cartoon characters, celebrities and more. Local business and community leaders also volunteer as the parade’s Distinguished Clown Corps, doling out candy and good cheer to all parade attendees.

The parade was first broadcast on radio station WWJ in 1931. First televised locally in 1948, the parade is now broadcast nationally to more than 100 million viewers. Because of material shortages during World War II, the parade was suspended in 1943 and 1944. Hudson’s resumed sponsorship of the event in 1945 and continued until 1979. The Detroit Renaissance Foundation became the sponsor until 1983. Control was then transferred to the newly created Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation, whose non-profit, tax-exempt, Parade Company organizes the event with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

While Hudson’s is gone, the event was sponsored for years by furniture retailer Art Van, then Gardner-White, and supported by area corporations and the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation. The 2020 rendition of America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic was a virtually-centered event with no public access.

 


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Thanksgiving Parade, 1973

Thanksgiving Parade, 1940s

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