A ticker-tape parade through lower Manhattan is pretty much the quintessential homecoming for American heroes. So it’s fitting that the conquering U.S. women’s soccer team — which won the World Cup on Sunday — will get its second parade in four years down New York City’s “Canyon of Heroes” on Wednesday morning. That’s an appropriate honor after one of the most dominating performances we’ve ever seen in all of sports history.
Today’s ticker-tape parades in NYC go almost exclusively to teams like the one Megan Rapinoe led to championship glory. Including the past two parades, both earned by the women’s soccer players, sports heroes have gotten 11 of the past 12 parades in New York over a span of 25 years. (The only exception was in 1998, when 77-year-old John Glenn and the rest of the space shuttle Discovery crew were honored.) But that wasn’t always the case. Although about 18 percent of the 196 NYC ticker-tape parades in Wikipedia’s database have commemorated sports accomplishments over the years, that ranks a distant third behind parades thrown for important heads of state (38 percent) and military figures (20 percent). Before sports went on its recent tear, it made up only 13 percent of ticker-tape parades, or roughly the same share as went to famous (nonastronaut) adventurers such as pilot Amelia Earhart and explorer Richard Byrd.
Here’s a look at all 196 New York ticker-tape parades in our data set, broken down by year and type:
When we plot out the whole history of these parades, a few things jump out:
- Sports is everything now. Athletes have always gotten some share of parade glory, but there have been as many sports parades in the past 25 years as in the nearly 40 years prior, even as the overall rate of parades has dropped dramatically.1 And while you might think that a New York championship parade requires a New York-based team to win — which hasn’t happened much since the Yankees’ last dynasty ended in 20002 — the city has also been known to throw a big party for Olympians, successful national teams like the USWNT and even individuals like Sammy Sosa (yes, really) after the Dominican-born outfielder hit 66 home runs and helped provide relief for victims of Hurricane Georges in 1998.
- They sure loved their parades in the 1950s and 1960s. Nearly half (48 percent) of all the parades on the list happened during the 1950s and ’60s alone. Along with the celebration of sports — baseball in its NYC heyday, plus great individual athletes such as Althea Gibson and Ben Hogan — it was the perfect moment for visiting dignitaries (50 heads of state got parades) and war heroes (21 military parades) to get honored in the wake of World War II. And then came the advent of the space program, which spawned numerous astronaut parades after the accomplishments of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. The space race represented a peak of sorts for ticker-tape parades; astronauts would be celebrated eight times from 1962 to 1971, and the end of the Apollo program in 1972 coincided with a sharp decline in the number of parades held. (The city’s near-bankruptcy in 1975 didn’t help matters either.)
- The 1920s and 1930s were a prime time for adventurers. The first great period of parade activity ramped up around the start of the 1920s, not long after the end of World War I. At first, the honorees were what you’d expect — dignitaries from abroad, military leaders, heroic sea rescuers, etc. But by the middle of the decade, parades began to more frequently honor expeditions like trips to the North Pole and trans-Atlantic flights. From 1926 through 1938, more ticker-tape parades were devoted to adventurous accomplishments (19 total) than all other reasons combined (18).
- There have been some bizarre excuses to throw parades over the years. If you go through the list of parades, you’re guaranteed to have at least one moment of, “Wait, why?” A few of our favorite weird commemorations included … Aimé Tschiffely, the Swiss-Argentine professor who embarked on a solo horse ride from Buenos Aires to New York; Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, a pilot who accidentally flew to Ireland (instead of California) from New York;3 the 48 European journalists who went on an “American discovery” flight around the U.S. in 1949; the Order of the Knights of Pythias, a secret society that got its own parade in 1955; pianist Van Cliburn, who won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958; separate parades, two weeks apart, for both the first woman to swim the English Channel and the first mother to swim the English Channel; Marquis Jacques de Dampierre, who got a 1930 parade because his long-dead ancestor happened to be Revolutionary War hero Lafayette; and Connie Mack, who was honored in New York for managing a Philadelphia baseball team for 50 years. If you are interested in reading more about NYC’s history with unnecessary parades, Splinter’s David Matthews wrote on the topic before the USWNT parade four years ago.
- These things are rare now. If you’re in the New York City area Wednesday and have a chance to attend the U.S. women’s team’s parade, you should probably check it out. These massive ticker-tape celebrations used to happen several times per year, but now we’re lucky if we get one every three or four years. And if anyone on this list deserves the acclaim, it’s this American team. Amid a backdrop of calls for equal pay, this is only the 12th Canyon of Heroes parade devoted entirely to women. Before the USWNT’s 2015 parade, it had been 55 years since a woman was the sole focus of a ticker-tape parade. Now the U.S. women have earned each of the past two. That’s a remarkable accomplishment — and one worth a massive celebration in lower Manhattan.