Celebration via Office Supplies: The History of the Ticker-Tape Parade

Yankees Ticker Tape

Yankees Ticker Tape Parade, from Yahoo! Sports

Being in New York, I can’t ignore the fact that many of my students are out today. 

It’s not swine flu.  More like Yankee Whooping Cough.

Today the 27-time World Series Champion New York Yankees received their hard-earned reward with a ticker tape parade up lower Broadway to City Hall, the so-called “Canyon of Heroes.”  I was at the last such event, in 2000, and the excitement and frenzy are an experience to remember.  There was a chance I could’ve gone to the 1994 parade for the New York Rangers, but a final exam was scheduled that day.

Still, it got me thinking: what’s with all this office paper out the window?  Why does the wanton destruction of perfectly good paper products constitute a proper tribute to a champion? 

Thank the Statue of Liberty for that.  That’s right.  Lady Liberty is the copper culprit that began the tradition of the ticker tape parade.

On October 29, 1886, the first ticker-tape parade was held to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.  The banks, brokerage houses and businesses on lower Broadway celebrated by taking the used ticker tape from their adding machines and stock tickers and tossing them out the window on the crowds below.  Nobody planned it—the brokers  probably thought it was a convenient way to get rid of the trash.  Nonetheless, a tradition was born.

From then on, the city fathers saw the popularity of such events and created a tradition of honoring military triumphs, foreign visitors, space voyages and sports championships.  Since 1886, there have been 180 paper-strewn triumphs down Broadway.   Most have taken place before 1963, and are much rarer today.

 In the beginning, mostly military and political heroes were honored.  Admiral George Dewey was honored for his service in Manila in 1899.  Teddy Roosevelt got one in 1910 after he returned from Africa with enough animal carcasses to fill a natural history museum—which is exactly where they went.  1945 was a busy year: if you had at least two stars on your uniform, you went under the tape.  Eisenhower, de Gaulle, Nimitz, Halsey, and General Wainwright (from Corregidor) each received a parade.

In the late 1940, 1950s and early 1960s, however, the city decided to go apeshit on these things.  If you were foreign, had a crown, or some elected office, you got a parade. 

Any tinpot dictator of a moth-eaten republic got a parade.

 Presidents of places like El Salvador, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Guinea…parade, parade, parade, and parade.

And what of the champion sports teams of New York of this era?  The New York Giants got one in 1954, for winning the National League pennant.  For the Pennant!  It was in September and the World Series hadn’t even started yet!  As for the Yankees, champions in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936-1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949-1953, 1956, and 1958, they would not receive a parade for their effort until their World Series win of 1961, almost 40 years after their first trophy for the city.  That’s real gratitude, for you!

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, cities across America became very wary of open car parades in crowded cities, especially places with high rises that provide such perfect vantage points for snipers.  The ticker-tape parade became a rarer occasion, often exclusively used for space exploration, military triumphs and sports champions.  Recent non-sports parades celebrated Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and war veterans of Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.

Hope all my kids enjoyed themselves downtown.  Today, thanks to computers, there’s no real ticker-tape at a ticker-tape parade.  Most of the paper is either confetti provided to offices by the city, or scrap paper that has been shredded in office shredders—don’t look up or you might get a staple in your eye. 

I just hope my students can do something great to earn their own parade one day.

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