39 Striking Vintage Thanksgiving Photos From The Past Century
Every photo in this article is a snapshot of a time when everything was a little bit more simple, at least on the outside. A time that people can look back on fondly is rarely something that's taken lightly, and it's never too soon to look back on happy memories. These rare moments, old photographs of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades, pictures of early-to-mid-20th century city dwellers enjoying their holiday, and mementos of traditions long gone are a reminder to cherish the present, because in the end it's all going to be history.
A rare photo of a young boy in Washington D.C. discovering his love of pumpkin pie, for starters, shows just the beginning of how much people have always loved Thanksgiving as a holiday. The 20th century showed such a huge change in what people saw this holiday as, that it's barely recognizable from where it started, but still has all the same heart, charm, and soul that it did back then. Here's what it looked like before most of you were born...
"Thanksgiving maskers" living it up in the 1910s
"Thanksgiving maskers" were a tradition of people in the pre-Trick-Or-Treat era who were a leftover of the 19th century tradition where people would go door-to-door asking for money or food. Sometimes, these people would even play music in exchange for help in the form of money or food. This was before Halloween became the costumed holiday it is today, and was celebrated on Thanksgiving because people had the most spare food then, given that it's The U.S.'s day of giving, gratitude, and lovable gluttony. This rare photo shows just how different streets looked on Thanksgiving in the early 20th century.
Kids dressed as beggars or "ragamuffins" would crowd the Thanksgiving streets
While "Thanksgiving masking" was a tradition that was held mainly in New York City, candy stores around the country started selling costumes, and the beginning of Halloween marketing was starting to rear its head. The "Ragamuffin" character became so common that Thanksgiving would sometimes even be called "Ragamuffin Day."
A 1950s family pulling the turkey out of the oven as the grandfather holds the grandchildren.
A very hungry young lady eyeing a Thanksgiving turkey
About 17 minutes before any Thanksgiving dinner, this is something that every American can relate to. It's just sitting right there. It's so close, but no cigar (but back then, maybe cigar, but definitely no turkey).
People Viewing An Early Version Of The Macy's Parade, 1930s
A crowd watching Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City
Turkeys being sold on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1939
Outdoor markets are still very much common in New York, but you'd be hard-pressed to find fully-plumed turkeys being sold, unrefrigerated, on the streets these days.
Clotheslines, an apple, a drumstick, and very few safety precautions
A small five-year-old boy named Nicky enjoys a turkey leg like a big boy while sitting on a windowsill with stairs leading up to it as clothes dry from hangers all around the city. Army's Nursery.
New York kids eating meatloaf for Thanksgiving dinner, donating their money to British kids in need, 1940
Because those less fortunate than us deserve love on Thanksgiving, these kids all donated 120 pennies in plates, representing an empty table setting (and a donation) for British kids affected by the war.
A 1930s housewife uses a "Savory" pan on Thanksgiving
A beautiful, simple stove, and what looks to be a fairly bare turkey at this point, delivering Thanksgiving dinner to a lucky family in the 1930s.
A Family playing Monopoly on Thanksgiving
Even at the turn of the century, families spent their post-food-coma bliss challenging each other at various games until everyone falls asleep and all the weird stuff gets put into plastic bags.
A family of black sharecroppers says grace around a half-full jar of tomatoes
A sharecropper settlement from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, only had this jar of picked tomatoes to share over Thanksgiving, but were thankful none the less. Their group of sharecroppers had recently participated in a demonstration in 1939 to protest their lot in life.
Columbus Square Fills Up With People Gawking At This Giant Fish
"Some pretty queer looking pedestrians can be observed at large gatherings at Broadway, but some of the creatures who make their way down the famed thoroughfare in the annual Macy Thanksgiving Parade are enough to faze even a taxi driver. Here throngs of New Yorkers jamming Columbus Circle gape as a flying fish swings onto Broadway from Central Park West." Look at that fish.
Marilyn Monroe posted for this scandalous photo from 1950, in which she was dressed both as a go-go girl and a pilgrim/puritan.
A spaceman overlooks a 1950s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
Archetypes, symbols of what people liked, and hopeful icons of the future adorned Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades of the past. This spaceman from the 1950s preceded humanity's first actual moon landing by over a decade.
Three men serving up pies, a turkey, and apples, 1922
Apples were a staple for Thanksgiving in the early 20th century, and very few photos encapsulate that fact more than this one. A beautiful dinner being delivered by three men, where the biggest platter contained apples, shows why so many people in this actual article are pictures just holding apples.
This PA family who embodied Norman Rockwell's America
Basically a Normal Rockwell painting, this classic American Thanksgiving Dinner taking place in at a Pennsylvania country home was the epitome of how people spent Thanksgiving in 1940 (and, mostly, how they spend it today).
Elementary school students about to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal in their classroom
While not a time-honored tradition, some schools still provide a "Thanksgiving version" of their lunch time meal before Thanksgiving break.
Diana Ross performing at the 1979 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Diana Ross performed on The Daily News's "Big Apple" float for the 1979 Macy's Day Parade where thousands of people wanted a glimpse at the pop superstar.
A farmer handing a woman a turkey in the 1920s
In front of a beautiful car, a farmer seems to be showing a woman in fashionable '20s garb a mildly aggressive-looking turkey.
1930's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Broadway
The lack of giant balloons, the amount of traffic still driving through the parade, and the fact that most of these aren't promoting any big brands (other than, of course, Macy's), set this apart from Thanksgiving Day parades today. Please feel free to notice the amount of hats being worn as well. That's a lot of hats.
Turkeys on their way to President Herbert Hoover, 1929
Being transported from Minnesota to Washington D.C., these turkeys were meant for new president Herbert Hoover. The fact that the people pictured here looked so happy, right after the event which triggered The Great Depression, is a sign of how quickly things can change for everyone. And again, hats. People wore all kinds of hats.
President FDR carving the turkey at a Thanksgiving dinner for polio patients
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt carving a turkey for a Thanksgiving benefit dinner for polio patients is a wholesome image of a great president. Happy children smiling at each other in a perfectly-decorated room are the essence of Thanksgiving dinner.
Two women play with a decorative wishbone as the one in the middle holds a turkey that was later given to president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Giant Balloons make their way through The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, NYC, 1950s
Harry S. Truman sizes up a Tom Turkey from Oregon
An angry-looking 35 lb. turkey is sized up by then-President Harry S. Truman at the White House Rose Garden in preparation for Thanksgiving. The Tom Turkey came all the way from Oregon to get to the president, and their suits could not be more demonstrative of the year, 1952.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower having a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with his family
At the Georgia National Golf Course, then-President Ike Eisenhower enjoyed a very textbook Thanksgiving dinner with his beautiful family in 1953.
President John F. Kennedy having his turkey delivered to him, 1963
Always one to take a great photograph, president JFK is seen here laughing with a turkey that has a very morbidly-hilarious message around its neck. Everyone is having a wonderful time on this day in November, 1963.
President Lyndon B. Johnson looking at a 40 lb. Tom Turkey
President LBJ was presented with an enormous 40 lb. turkey on November 16, and did not look as pleased as most presidents when being presented with their annual turkeys.
A class of kids in kindergarten performing a Thanksgiving play, 1978
This diverse group of kids perform at a Thanksgiving pageant at their school in the late '70s.
Vice President Nixon receiving the next year's turkey instead of LBJ
Lyndon B. Johnson didn't seem to love this whole Tom Turkey tradition given to him by the turkey industry, so this time, the Vice President Richard Nixon received the turkey in his stead.
Popeye makes his way through the Thanksgiving Day parade
Only vaguely threatening, Popeye has been a staple of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since the character has been around. Huge balloons weren't always a part of the Macy's Day Parade festivities, but as soon as they were, the department store's kid-friendly branding was solidified.
Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck at the Macy's Day Parade, 1972
A staple of the Macy's Day parade, Mickey and Donald showed up in 1972 to celebrate the very first anniversary of Disney World.
The Macy's Day Parade 1984, Donald Duck's 50th Anniversary
This "Tom Turkey" float in 1984 closely followed by a Donald Duck who was, at the time, celebrating his 50th anniversary as a character.
Mickey Mouse, Like People Had Never Seen Him Before
Mickey Mouse made headlines for being such a huge float and holding up traffic for 25 whole minutes in this early version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
A group of children dressed up for a Thanksgiving pageant, 1910
An incredible show of how times have changed, children dress up with feathers in their caps as they get ready to play at a Thanksgiving pageant in 1910
Two military men being fed by the city of New York in 1918
Two men eating what looks to be a very browned turkey on fine china with plenty of side dishes. Is that a plate of marshmallows in there? There's a lot more simple food and fruit on plates from the early 20th century that the kind of Top Chef stuff that people make these days.
Giant fish, tigers, a marching band, and cigars, 1929
These parade floats show a giant fish (a staple in early parades), a 60-ft-long tiger balloon, and, for the first time, Santa Claus in New York City. 1929 was one of the first years for giant balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. One notable difference being a huge cigar store being front and center of this photograph.