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Celebrating in the Big Apple: America’s Navy in Ticker Tape

From the Statue of Liberty collection -- Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Caption reads: The grand demonstration on "Liberty Day" October 28th--the military and civic procession passing down lower Broadway, with the naval pageant in the distance. Photo courtesy of Statute of Liberty National Park Service
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Caption reads: The grand demonstration on “Liberty Day” October 28th–the military and civic procession passing down lower Broadway, with the naval pageant in the distance. Photo courtesy of Statute of Liberty National Park Service

From Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division

The iconic New York City ticker-tape parade started Oct. 28, 1886 as an impromptu celebration following the dedication of the Statute of Liberty.

Since then, more than 200 have been deserving recipients of a ticker-tape parade. Throwing ticker-tape was considered a throwback to the ancient ritual of tossing flowers before the paths of conquering heroes. The ticker-tape, a one-inch wide paper upon which stock quotes were printed, came in either spools or could be cut into confetti-sized pieces. It was used mostly in the financial district where the spools would create streamers from the buildings to the ground floor. The recipients rode in custom-built limousines to allow dignitaries to sit on top.

The parade begins at Battery Park, where most visiting dignitaries, such as the King and Queen of England, would disembark oceanliners, travel through the Canyon of Heroes on Broadway and end up at City Hall in Manhattan.

The first live person to have a ticker-tape parade after Lady Liberty and one honoring the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration was Sept. 30, 1899 for Navy Adm. George Dewey, the hero of the Battle of Manila during the Spanish American War.

Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd is photographed with Army Maj. Gen.  Charles P. Summerall, (left), and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore D. Robinson (right) after Byrd's return from the North Pole, June 23, 1926. His first ticker-tape parade in New York City was the same day. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph
Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd is photographed with Army Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall, (left), and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore D. Robinson (right) after Byrd’s return from the North Pole, June 23, 1926. His first ticker-tape parade in New York City was the same day.
U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Navy Cmdr. Richard Byrd claims the title of having the most ticker-tape parades at three. His first was June 23, 1926 with Chief Aviation Officer Floyd Bennett for their flight over the North Pole. The second was a year later on July 18, 1927 for his transatlantic flight, and his third, June 18, 1930, now a rear admiral, followed his expedition to Antarctica.

 

If the size of the parade is measured by the waste left behind, then the record goes to NASA astronaut and Ohio Sen. John Glenn, who at age 62 was honored for being the oldest-ever astronaut, along with the rest of the space shuttle Discovery crew, with a ticker-tape parade Nov. 16, 1998.  The record-setting parade collected more than 3,474 tons of ticker-tape and debris. It was the second ticker-tape parade for the retired Marine colonel. His first was March 1, 1962 to honor him as the first American to orbit the earth.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur holds the record for the second-highest amount at 3,249 tons for the ticker-tape parade held in his honor April 20, 1951, the day after President Harry S. Truman removed him from his position as commander of the United Nations forces defending South Korea. When he spoke to Congress April 19 to declare his 52-year career was over, MacArthur received 50 standing ovations.

Both Glenn’s and MacArthur’s parades, at 19 miles, were longer than most today.

Until 1990, New York city paid out of its pocket for the parades, but since then, the parades have been paid for with a combination of donations, private funds or corporate sponsorship.

Mayor John Lindsay, who had greatly limited the number of ticker-tape parades after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, broke tradition when he rode with the moon-walking 1969 astronauts from Battery Park to City Hall, rather than waiting until the motorcade arrived at City Hall.

And there was actually a real Mr. Ticker-Tape, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York. Grover Whalen oversaw more than 1,000 public events (including dozens of ticker tape parades) as the city’s official greeter for 30 years beginning in 1919. He rode in the vehicle with Fleet Adm. Nimitz in 1945. He is distinguished by his top hat and carnation in his button hole. He also was responsible for setting up NYC’s municipal radio WNYC and the 1939/40 World’s Fair.

Ticker-tape parades today use shredded computer paper or any other paper that can be found, with most ticker-tape parades averaging around 50 tons of waste collected by the city’s sanitation department. One overly-excited person who planned to use the pages out of a phone book forgot to rip them out and hoisted the whole thing out the window. It struck a person on the street, knocking him unconscious.

Ironically, the most ticker-tape ever collected wasn’t even a parade. It was from the impromptu celebrations of Aug. 13-14, 1945, upon the announcement Japan had agreed to surrender, or what is more normally referred to as V-J Day. More than 5,438 tons of material, from cloth, feathers, hat trimmings, ticker-tape and confetti filled the streets over two days.

Navy Ticker-Tape Parade Recipients: