America’s First Thanksgiving Day Parade

Chances are you have seen the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade on TV or even attended the event in person. It has become a holiday tradition for many families to watch or attend prior to enjoying their holiday meal. While most Philadelphians have seen the parade, many do not know that the Thanksgiving Day Parade which is held in Philadelphia is actually the very first Thanksgiving day parade in America.

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning

Adam Gimbel was a Bavarian immigrant who came to the United States in 1840 and opened a retail store named Gimbels in Indiana in 1842. His department store introduced fixed pricing during a time when negotiating a price was common practice and was one of the first stores to give refunds and accept returns. In Philadelphia in 1894, Gimbels opened a store at 9th and Market Streets. At this time, the company, which had consisted of several retail stores, was being run by Adam’s sons and grandsons.

In 1920, Ellis Gimbel imagined the idea of a Thanksgiving Day parade sponsored by the store as a type of marketing tool. The parade would be a signal to shoppers that the holiday shopping season had begun and that Gimbels could meet all of their holiday shopping needs.

The parade caught on and quickly grew from only 50 employees during its first year to include floats, balloons and several high school marching bands. While the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade may be the more well-known parade, the Gimbels rival store did not begin sponsoring the event until 1924, after the Philadelphia parade had gained popularity.


The parade continued to be sponsored by Gimbels for 65 years until the department store was renamed “Stern’s” in 1986 when it was taken over by the Allied Stores Corporation. The new store did not have an interest in sponsoring the parade which then was in jeopardy of continuing at all. WPVI took the reins and took on the job of covering production costs and got other corporate sponsors to contribute. They partnered with Boscov’s until 2008 when the company filed for bankruptcy. IKEA furniture store then took over sponsorship of the parade until 2010 when Dunkin’ Donuts took over.

Routes And Destinations

The parade traditionally started at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, went down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and then ended at Gimbels department store. There Santa would climb a ladder on a fire truck to get to the 8th floor of the store where “Toyland” was located, and the holiday shopping season could officially begin.

After the Gimbels sponsorship of the parade ceased, the final destination of the parade did too. In 1986 the parade route was reversed, beginning at 20th and Market Streets and ending at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This Year’s Event

This is the 98th year that Philadelphia will host the Thanksgiving parade and it will be sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts. The parade will start at 8:30 am on Thursday, November 23, Thanksgiving Day. The parade is 1.4 miles long and will follow the now traditional route, beginning at 20th Street and JFK Boulevard and ending at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Some old favorite floats will return this year such as Bugs Bunny, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Daniel Tiger, and a few new additions like The Penguins of Madagascar and Buddy the Dinosaur will join the parade.

There will be over 40 dance troupes, several choirs and singing groups, and 15 marching bands performing in the parade.

Special guests will include former American Idol stars Ruben Studdard, Justin Guarini, and Melinda Doolittle and former Voice contestants Josh Gallagher and Billy Gilman will also be in attendance. Of course, the biggest celebrity of all, Santa Claus, will make his appearance at the finale of the parade in front of the Art Museum.

By |2017-11-16T14:14:29+00:00November 16th, 2017|Philadelphia|Comments Off on America’s First Thanksgiving Day Parade

About the Author:

Luke Wistar Morris was part of the Morris family who built what is now the Morris House Hotel. Luke had many interests including brewing beer, and was an engineer in Philadelphia. Follow Luke on Google+
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