One of the most recognizable sights in the world is that of the ticker tape parades. The air fills with paper in a spectacular display of celebration. And indeed stationery!
What’s the story behind this all American event? Read on for important shreds of information about ticker tape parades…
It began with Lady Liberty
New York’s iconic Statue of Liberty made her debut in October 1886. Naturally the city wanted to shout about it. A lot of work went into getting the French-American project in place. The National Park Service writes, “Firefighters, soldiers, and veterans—including the 20th Regiment of US Colored Troops—marched down Broadway to the sounds of 100 brass bands, cannons, and sirens.”
It isn’t quite clear why it happened, but as festivities reached Broadway they found it was raining paper. People in buildings “spontaneously threw ticker tape out of their office windows” according to History.com.
Money men got their latest stock quotes on a 1 inch “ticker” strip, the ticker being the machine that printed it. Wall Street probably weren’t going to hurl dollar bills out the window, so this was the next best thing! Though they didn’t realize it at the time, an airborne institution was born…
There aren’t ticker tape parades anymore…
Ticker tape may have gotten the party started. But in recent decades the papery shower has been made up of confetti, or anything that can be shredded.
How come? Around three quarters of a century ago the market went electronic, so those stock-laden strips simply stopped tickering. Now there’s a range of material suitable for the task in hand. Provided it isn’t classified, it’s good to go in the shredder to be scattered come parade time…
Canyon of Heroes
The parade stops once everyone’s gone home and that paper is put in the dumpster. Or does it? Dates and descriptions have been immortalized on black granite plaques sunk into the paving stones of Broadway.
In 2003 approx 200 of the plaques were laid around 25 ft apart. Appropriately enough they are thin and strip-like, perhaps in tribute to ticker tape. “With only the city street signs to signify their existence,” writes The Wall Street Experience website, “New Yorkers and tourists walk right across them everyday without even realizing.”The parade-heavy stretch, running between Battery Place and City Hall, is called the “Canyon of Heroes”. As The Experience explains, this is due to the epic structures of Lower Manhattan creating a canyon-like effect. A classic case of don’t look up…!
As for the Canyon’s “Heroes”, they’re the individuals those street-bound celebrations are dedicated to.
Aside from athletes like Jesse Owens (fresh from his victory at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and the 2015 US women’s soccer team – the first ever all-female honoring – the parades have paid tribute to soldiers and politicians.
This has seen its fair share of drama. When General Douglas MacArthur butted heads with President Truman back in 1951, a parade was laid on for the 5 star military veteran. The Korean War had proved crunch time for these 2 powerful individuals.
The Commander in Chief pursued a ceasefire, thinking the conflict “represented an opportunity to stop the spread of communism into South Korea”, according to the Truman Library. Whereas his General wanted to “liberate the North from communist control” for which “aggressive action was required.”
Truman eventually gave MacArthur his marching orders, and the relieved (as in dismissed!) General marched straight along Broadway.
Different times and attitudes meant some questionable exploits were rewarded big time… big game for example! “Theodore Roosevelt was welcomed back from his African safari with a parade” writes History. Further afield… beyond Earth’s atmosphere in fact…. Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and co were welcomed in 1969.
Such diverse figures as Albert Einstein, Pope John Paul II and Amelia Earhart also received rapturous ticker tape receptions…
Who’s been given the most parades?
The most-paraded personality wasn’t an athlete or an astronaut, but comes pretty close. Explorer Richard E. Byrd had no less than 3 parades in his honor. Byrd’s polar expeditions captured the public imagination, and led to him visiting the – relatively – less chilly climes of Manhattan on a trio of occasions.
Comparing his arduous journeys with those of space travellers, Dennis Overbye of the New York Times writes Byrd’s story provides a “stark illustration of the privations to which humans will subject themselves, and their families, in the service of whatever they deem a greater glory”.
The ticker tape descended on Byrd in 1926, 1927 and 1930. Parades 1 and 3 tributed his flying over the North and South Poles respectively. The middle celebration is described as a double whammy, springing from 2 separate transatlantic flights. His Arctic adventures resulted in snow of a different kind on the New York streets…
Size is everything
As well as focusing on the greats of society, these parades are goliaths in terms of volume. Paper strips amassed during the General MacArthur event reached an astonishing 3,000 tons.
That figure increased to 5,000 tons in 1945, when Japan’s wartime defeat led to an unprecedented amount of material cascading down from people’s windows.
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Ticker tape parades won’t be happening again any time soon. But the tradition will no doubt resume once things return to a semblance of normality…