Head float designer Manfred Bass measures out a Mickey Mouse scale model for a parade float.

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Macy's Parade Floats

Floats have been a mainstay of the parade since its inception in 1924. The float didn't achieve its spectacle status until 1969, when Manfred Bass began creating the floats. Bass designed them so that they could be flattened for their trip through the Holland Tunnel. They were then reassembled during the pre-dawn hours of the parade [source: Macy's].

Harvey Fierstein (as Mrs. Claus) participates in The 77th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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Today, floats are constructed of materials including wood, metal, fiberglass, fabric and foam. The Macy's Parade Studio team starts with a sketch and then makes an exact-scale drawing of the float. The pieces of the float are built, starting with a flat base called a floatbed, and then painted. Props are added, and the float is fully assembled in the studio. As is the tradition, the last float of the parade carries Santa Claus, ushering in the start of the Christmas season.

The dimensions of the floats vary. For instance, a Showboat float is 33 feet tall, 16 feet wide and 42 feet long; and a Statue of Liberty float is 21 feet tall, 15 feet wide and 19 feet long. The floats all collapse to no more than 12 and a half feet tall and 8 feet wide, enabling them to journey from the Macy's Parade Studio in Hoboken, N.J., through the Lincoln Tunnel and into New York City the day before the parade.

In addition to balloons and floats, the lineup includes float-balloon combos called falloons and balloonicles -- a cross between a balloon and a self-powered vehicle. Eight hundred volunteers march as clowns, and about a dozen bands from around the country perform. Other special units, such as police officers on horseback, also appear in the parade.

In the next section, we'll learn about how the city of New York prepares for and manages one of the world's largest parades.­