The Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit

This Thanksgiving marked the 85th anniversary of a Detroit favorite now known as America’s Thanksgiving Parade. The parade was started in 1924 by Charles Wendel, the display manager of the J.L. Hudson Company department store on Woodward Avenue. Along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, which was founded the same year, Hudson’s Thanksgiving parade was one of the first of its kind in the United States. Inspired in part by European carnivals, the parade featured large papier-mâché heads imported from Italy, floats depicting nursery rhymes, and bands marching down Woodward Avenue. Since his first appearance in 1925, Santa Claus has remained a staple of the parade.

Hudson’s department store was the primary sponsor of the parade until 1979 when, facing economic hardship in a struggling city, it handed the management of the parade to the Detroit Renaissance, a non-profit organization of business and community leaders dedicated to rejuvenating Detroit. The Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation was established in 1982 to support the parade, which is now managed by The Parade Company.

Photographers from The Detroit News captured the artwork and excitement of the parade throughout the years. Their images of the parade can be found in Virtual Motor City, a joint digitization project of the Reuther Library and the Wayne State University Library System. Famed Detroit Free Press photographer Tony Spina also captured some images of the parade, which are available in the Tony Spina Collection image gallery. Whether reminiscing about the parade or researching the history of 20th century Detroit, Virtual Motor City and the Tony Spina Collection provide rich documentation of the visual history of Detroit.

Troy Eller is the Archivist for the Society of Women Engineers.