When the triumphant U.S. women’s soccer team rolls down Broadway on Wednesday morning to bask in an official New York ticker-tape parade, it will be the first time the city has bestowed that signature confetti-blizzard on anyone since … the triumphant U.S. women’s soccer team in 2015, the last time it won the World Cup. They join the New York Yankees as the only team to be honorees at back-to-back ticker-tape parades.
The U.S. women have a way to go before they equal the six parades the Yankees have earned for their World Series wins. But the World Cup champions can take pride in being one of just a few non-New York sports teams to get the accolade at all. The city has honored a few U.S. Olympic teams (welcoming one home from Paris in 1924 in the first sports-related ticker-tape parade, and sending one off to Helsinki in 1952). But the city has mostly saved its love for Gotham’s own lineups.
“On and off the field, this team represents what’s best about New York City and our nation,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, the only official with the power to call for the city’s 207th official ticker-tape parade.
The uniquely New York practice of dumping office trash on the heads of dignitaries and heroes began in October 1886. That’s when clerical workers along Wall Street began spontaneously tossing spools of ticker-tape ribbon down onto a group marching to the Battery for the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty.
Parades had been a feature of Lower Manhattan since colonial days, according to a history of the tradition compiled by the Alliance for Downtown New York and the Museum of the City of New York, But after telegraph ticker-tape machines began to spread to brokers’ offices in the 1870s as a way to stamp real-time stock prices onto one-inch-wide strips of paper, some inspired staffer leaned out a window, tossed off a roll and invented a contrail of celebration.
Those who loved a good parade loved the effect, hailing the streamers as a financial-sector version of the flower-strewn processions of Europe, South America and Asia. Others, including some sniffy letter-to-the-editor writers, called it “litter.”
But the practice began to grow, with a parade thrown in 1889 to mark the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration and another in 1910 to welcome former president Theodore Roosevelt back from an African safari. (He rode down Broadway with 150 members of his old “Rough Riders” unit.) In 1919, at the end of World War I, Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing joined more 30,000 soldiers and Red Cross nurses on a triumphant, paper-showered march.
As the parades grew more common, the range of honorees and the size of the crowds varied enormously. For long stretches of the 20th century, the parades were largely devoted to welcoming foreign dignitaries, often at the request of the State Department.
Young Queen Elizabeth got a parade; Charles de Gaulle got two, as did the shah of Iran. By the late 1950s, many locals and business owners deemed the events too frequent and too dull. (There were three in one week of May 1950, and 1955 saw the presidents of Guatemala and Uruguay feted a month apart.)
“They began to feel a little rote,” said Andy Breslau, senior vice president of the Downtown Alliance.
Mayor John Lindsay put a moratorium on ticker-tapes soon after taking office in 1966, but he quickly made an exception for the beginning of the Space Age. New Yorkers, who couldn’t get enough of throwing stuff at astronauts each time they came down from a new orbit, moon shot or lunar landing, had always had a thing for fliers.
Charles Lindbergh, Richard E. Byrd and Wiley Post were among the dozens of air pioneers honored by parades. Ruth Elder got one for being the first woman to attempt a transatlantic flight, and Amelia Earhart got one for finally pulling it off.
“The Age of Aviation always drew a huge response,” Breslau said.
Many of the gatherings were massive, attracting more than a million revelers to the route and depositing thousands of tons of paper at their feet.
The city’s Department of Sanitation, responsible for tidying up all the scraps, has historical records on the amount collected that the New York Times cited in 2008. The 1986 Statue of Liberty centennial (and also the centennial of the ticker-tape parade) generated almost 3,000 tons of paper. Astronaut John Glenn had 3,474 tons dumped on him in 1962, almost half a million pounds more than Gen. Douglas MacArthur drew nine years earlier. The biggest paper fall may have been to mark the end of World War II in 1945, when giddy New Yorkers showered the streets with almost 11 million pounds of shredded joy.
Inevitably, the practice has shrunken as technology has changed. Ticker tape is no more in the “paperless economy” (and Wall Street workers never took to throwing their Bloomberg terminals down on the honorees) so the Downtown Alliance has distributed shredded recycled paper to businesses along the route.
Not so many windows open in the “Canyon of Heroes” in the age of air conditioning, and security restrictions keep many balconies and roofs off limits. The trash department, armed with leaf blowers and rakes, swept up just 30 tons of debris from the 2015 World Cup parade, according to a spokesperson.
Still, the weight of paper doesn’t always measure the weight of emotions. For many, there is no celebration quite as enthusiastic, or as messy, as a New York ticker-tape.
“One thing that was fantastic and moving in the 2015 parade was the huge numbers of girls and women who came out to see their heroes,” Breslau said. “And I guarantee you’ll see the same thing Wednesday.”
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