We Haven’t Forgotten: Gimbels Thanksgiving Parade Was The First

November 24, 2014 |  by  |  History  |  , ,

 

Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Women carry flags down Broad Street in the 1930s | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

In 1920, the Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade was the first of its kind. Store employees in clown costumes bandied down Market Street vying for attention to promote the store’s “Toyland.” Today, along with 19 or more college and local high school bands–like North Allegheny and Donegal High School–the parade ignites Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the fanfare and color of pre-holiday season merriment.

Over the years, the parade has seen its share of stars. In 1938, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, AKA the King of Tap, danced down the route. In 1983, Guion Bluford, Overbrook High grad and NASA’s first African American astronaut, was grand marshal. Before there were cartoons, the best balloons were of characters from newspaper comic strips like “Toonerville Trolley.” As the parade became a television spectacle, local stations brought out the network stars like Isabel Sanford from “The Jeffersons,” Ann Jillian from “Making a Living,” and Sally Starr, host of Philly’s popular kids program “Popeye Theater.”

Until 1939, Thanksgiving was, as Abraham Lincoln decreed it, celebrated on the last Thursday of November. That year, Frederic A. Gimbel, the owner of the department store, led a lobbying group that aimed to move the holiday back a week to lengthen the Christmas shopping season. “We all know,” Gimbel said, “that it is an American tradition to begin Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally worked to accommodate retailers and moved Thanksgiving Day that year. Confusion followed for a couple years, as not all states adopted the new date. In 1941, Congress voted to move the federal holiday to the fourth Thursday of November.

Gimbels’ Philadelphia store at 9th and Market Streets–the cornerstone of a national brand that famously rivaled Macy’s–catered to both high and low end consumers, unusual among retailers of the era. The store was meant to feel opulent. “Select, don’t settle,” was one of its favorite advertising slogans.

Gimbels was the first department store to have escalators, but with a decline in business, the store moved to the Gallery (the space that most recently was occupied by Kmart) in 1977. The old store, which had been updated by architects Stonorov Kahn in 1945, was demolished in 1980.

***

More classic Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day parade photos.

About the author

Kyrie Greenberg is a freelance writer and radio producer. She really doesn't mind if you mispronounce her name, but is always impressed when someone sings it to her.



2 Comments


  1. I don’t remember this parade but I do remember going to Gimbel’s with my mom and brother to shop. We took the trolley from 6th and Lehigh. Fun times. Thank you Kyrie (pretty name) for the article and pictures.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Jewelry Designer Adds Flair To Old Stable In East Passyunk

Jewelry Designer Adds Flair To Old Stable In East Passyunk

October 9, 2019  |  Art & Design, Preservation

An old horse stable in South Philly finds a new function in the fashion world. Stacia Friedman takes a look inside > more

Salvage City: Recycling History One Object At A Time

Salvage City: Recycling History One Object At A Time

October 7, 2019  |  Art & Design

One person's trash is another person's treasure, especially in the world of architectural salvage. Jacqueline Drayer takes a look at a new art exhibition at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens through the lens of the city's reclaimed materials industry > more

Special Collections Show Their Stuff For Archives Month Philly

Special Collections Show Their Stuff For Archives Month Philly

October 3, 2019  |  History

Archives Month Philly kicks off with a long list of October events in the Delaware Valley. Kimberly Haas spoke to archivists from across the region to get the details on what's in store this year > more

The Crowning Glory Of Christ Church’s Steeple Comes Down For Restoration

The Crowning Glory Of Christ Church’s Steeple Comes Down For Restoration

September 26, 2019  |  Preservation

In Old City, Christ Church's 265-year-old weathervane come down from the steeple to undergo restoration. Kimberly Haas has the details > more

Op-ed: Spreading The Gospel Of Deadbox, One Bottle Cap At A Time

Op-ed: Spreading The Gospel Of Deadbox, One Bottle Cap At A Time

September 26, 2019  |  City Life

In this essay Len Davidson makes the case for resurrecting a long-lost Philly street game that once contributed to the vibrance of neighborhood life and the human connection of row house culture > more

Concrete Cowboy Of Southwest Philly Finds A New Home At Bartram's Garden

Concrete Cowboy Of Southwest Philly Finds A New Home At Bartram’s Garden

September 24, 2019  |  City Life

After being ousted from vacant, City-owned land, an urban cowboy and his posse of young protégées find a permanent place to hang their hats. Sam Newhouse has the news > more