Since 1886, New York City has thrown more than 200 ticker-tape parades honoring a wide range of groups and individuals. While other cities have held similar celebrations, ticker-tape parades down New York’s iconic “Canyon of Heroes” have become major events and a unique way to honor notable achievements. Check out seven surprising facts you may not know about these celebrations.
1. The first one was impromptu.
While ticker-tape parades are now meticulously scheduled, the first ever was far from it. On October 28, 1886, as the parade in honor of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty marched up Broadway, employees spontaneously threw ticker tape out of their office windows to join in the celebration, giving the tradition its name. Celebrations continued intermittently over the next few decades, with more formally scheduled events beginning in 1919 with a parade for 25-year-old Edward Albert, the Prince of Wales. For more than 35 years, Grover Whalen played the role of official “greeter” and organizer of the festivities. Now, New York City’s mayor decides who is honored with an official parade.
2. They aren’t just for sports teams.
The ticker-tape parade is mostly closely associated with New York sports teams, but that wasn’t always the case. The first athletes weren’t honored until 1924, and before 1999 the parades were primarily used to honor world leaders, military veterans and astronauts, and to celebrate achievements in exploration, aviation and science. The astronauts of Apollo 11 were honored in 1969 after the moon landing. Theodore Roosevelt was welcomed back from his African safari with a parade. And Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Pope John Paul II, John Glenn, Amelia Earhart, Queen Elizabeth II and John F. Kennedy are a few more of the many individuals to receive a parade in their honor.
Individual athletes have also been honored, including Jesse Owens for his performance at the 1936 Olympics and Althea Gibson after winning Wimbledon in 1957. Major League Baseball’s Sammy Sosa, who finished second in the 1998 home run race, received a parade to acknowledge his relief work in the Dominican Republic after Hurricane Georges.
Polar explorer Richard E. Byrd is the individual to be honored the most, with three parades. The first was in 1926, following the first flight over the North Pole. The following year, Byrd was part of a double parade that took place honoring two transatlantic flights. In 1930, Byrd was honored again, this time for flying over the South Pole, as well as his first Antarctic expedition.
3. Only one women’s sports team has had its own parade.
The 2015 parade in honor of the United States women’s national soccer team, which won its third FIFA Women’s World Cup with a 5-2 win over Japan on July 5, 2015, became the first to ever honor a women’s team. Female athletes had been honored as individuals and as members of U.S. Olympic teams, but never before had a women’s team been honored on its own. They also became the first non-New York based sports team to receive its own ticker-tape parade.
Before the U.S. women’s team’s parade, the last female athlete to have her own parade was Carol Heiss, a Queens native who won gold in figure skating in 1960. Gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton was among those honored following the 1984 Olympics, the last time female athletes were honored in a ticker-tape parade before 2015.
4. Ticker-tape is no longer used.
Though known as “ticker-tape parades,” the parades themselves have not featured ticker tape in quite some time. The 1-inch strip of paper was used to print stock quotes from the ticker machine, popular in lower Manhattan’s financial district, which became the parade route. As the stock exchange moved to electronic boards in the 1960s, ticker tape was no longer in use, and shredded paper and confetti took its place.
5. General MacArthur received one after being relieved of duty.
Despite being removed from command by President Harry Truman, in 1951 General MacArthur received one of the biggest ticker-tape parades ever held in New York City. It extended over 19 miles of Manhattan, drew over 7 million spectators and featured 3,000 tons of paper.
6. The most material ever thrown for a parade was in 1945.
Following the Allied victory over Japan in 1945, over 5,000 tons of paper, confetti, cloth and more streamed down, the most material ever used—100 times as much as the average parade. Other well-papered parades include ones held after for astronaut John Glenn and Douglas MacArthur, when American hostages returned from Iran in 1981 and following the Mets’ first World Series win in 1969.
7. Each parade is commemorated with a plaque along the Canyon of Heroes.
In 2003, New York City marked the parade route with over 200 thin black granite markers, noting each parade with the date and a brief description—a New York version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some parades have traveled different parts of New York than the one-mile stretch of Broadway between the Battery and New York City Hall, known as the Canyon of Heroes, but they are honored with a plaque just the same.