In 1924, Charles F. Wendel, display manager at the J.L. Hudson
Company, conceived the idea of a grand Thanksgiving parade down
Woodward Avenue, with Santa alighting from his sleigh at Hudson's
to take up residence at the 12th floor Toyland.
His idea would become one of Detroit's longest-running and most
Mishaps have been few throughout the history of the parade, but
when they occurred they were spectacular.
In the early years, horses were used to draw the floats. One year
a team of horses, startled by a marching band, panicked and took
off, destroying a gas station building as well as the float they
were pulling. After that, Hudson's employees pulled the floats,
as many as 24 for a single float.
In 1960 five children were pushed underneath the Santa float by
a surging crowd.
In 1969 a bomb threat caused a slight delay while a thorough search
was made of Santa's float. Nothing suspicious was found and Santa
continued on his journey to Toyland.
The Most Rebellious Parader award goes to Chilly Willy, a rogue
30-foot-tall penguin. Chilly Willy pulled free of his tethers in
1990 and took off on a 25-mile journey up the river to Lake St.
He was apprehended by the Coast Guard just off Walpole Island at
In the late '70s, Hudson's began soliciting sponsors for the parade
and in 1979, gave up primary sponsorship and turned over control
of the parade to Detroit Renaissance, which in turn handed off to
the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation in 1983.
The Parade Company took over in 1990, and keeps the show running
with thousands of volunteers.
There was a squabble in 1959 over the television rights
to the parade.
Although Hudson's had an agreement with ABC to air
the parade nationally, CBS wanted to broadcast a portion of the
parade along with Macy's and Gimbel's parades.
Hudson's threatened a lawsuit but CBS went ahead.
National coverage ended completely in 1988, but will resume this
year with Chrysler returning as a sponsor of a half hour's coverage
In 1924, the Mother Goose float led off the
first J.L. Hudson Thanksgiving Day parade.
The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe float from
the 1925 parade. Horses were later banned when a team was spooked
by a marching band and destroyed a gas station.
St. Nicholas greets the crowds in front of
Hudson's at the conclusion of the 1937 parade.
Crowds line Woodward for the 1947 parade.