1927, Felix the Cat
Felix, the cartoon cat who was created in 1919, has the distinction of being the FIRST giant balloon ever made for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade's maiden voyage in 1927.
1964, Linus the Lionhearted
Linus the Lionhearted was created in 1960 to help promote Post Cereals such as Heart of Oats and Crispy Critters. In 1964, his popularity was parlayed into an animated television series (and a balloon) that ran original episodes on CBS until 1966. The show continued in reruns on ABC, but was eventually cancelled in 1969 when the FCC ruled that children's show characters could not appear in advertisements run during the same program.
The first Jim Davis Garfield comic strip appeared in newspapers on June 19, 1978, and less than three years later, the popular comic was appearing in syndication in 850 newspapers, and raking in $15 million in merchandise sales. Macy's came calling shortly thereafter, and in 1984, the first Garfield balloon appeared, with a second version debuting nine years later.
1988, The Pink Panther
In 1997, the Pink Panther was one of two balloons that were taken down (i.e. stabbed) on the parade route by NYPD officers who were concerned over high winds. The balloon was then banned the following year due to strict new size regulations.
On a more fun pop cultural note, Alf, the cat eating alien cum 80s sitcom star, who was on hand to provide commentary during the 1989 edition of the parade, remarked that the Garfield and Pink Panther balloons were big enough to feed his whole planet.
1994, The Cat in the Hat
The Cat in the Hat balloon had a short run due to an unfortunate incident that occurred during the 1997 parade. While other balloons (including the Pink Panther) were deflated due to concerns over high winds, the Cat in the Hat continued to fly - straight into a lamppost, that fell into a crowd of spectators. One unlucky bystander who was hit by falling debris spent a month in a coma, and went on to sue the city, Macy's, and the lamppost manufacturer to the tune of $395 million, that was later settled for an undisclosed amount. The classic character was retired from the parade the following year, having enjoyed only a brief, three year stint.
2003, Garfield #2
Cementing his superstar status, Garfield's balloon got an update in 2003. However, it wasn't just his looks that changed. This time he was also joined by his best friend, Pookie the teddy bear.
2007, "Supercute" Hello Kitty
The newest feline floater appeared four years ago in the form of Sanrio's Hello Kitty balloon. "Supercute" Hello Kitty, as she was dubbed, is clad in a cape, tiara, and her trademark red bow, and is set to return this year in the 85th anniversary of the parade. She will appear alongside old favorites such as Kermit the Frog and Snoopy, and new balloons such as an updated Sonic the Hedgehog, and Julius (the Paul Frank Monkey).
Image credits: Macys, Inc. Photo Gallery, unless otherwise noted.