A Brief History
On October 29, 1886, the first recorded use of ticker-tape was noted during the parade for the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
As a native of Northeast Ohio for my entire life (24 years and counting), to my knowledge the closest thing to a major celebration that the city has had in the past ten years was probably when the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in 2007. Reams of flashy confetti rained down upon screaming fans in Quicken Loans Arena as the Cleveland Cavaliers were crowned champions of the eastern conference. Although the celebration was short-lived, circles of sports fans continue to dream about the day that one of Cleveland’s sports teams will celebrate winning a major championship. Occasionally, fans conjure images of the celebration of the future triumph, which would last for days with people joyously singing songs of praise. There would be miles and miles of confetti up and down the roads. Without confetti, the fantasy would be incomplete.
Among the many things that the city of New York is known for, the use of ticker tape during major celebrations is probably one of those things that are taken for granted, even though it is perhaps one of the most visible and messy. The day was October 29, 1886. Citizens cluttered the streets and sidewalks of New York City while braving the bitter cold drizzle that dripped down from the sky. National banners waved from windows above while people peered down, watching as the rather dull procession proceeded down Fifty-Fifth Street, drudgingly marching along and at times making stops due to the mass congestion of people clogging the streets. The citizens stayed as cheerful as they could in such conditions, but the weather was testing their conduct. Then, the leading marching band blared out a tune and was accompanied by the click-clack of the naval and army brigades. The crowds were jolted with energy. Little children slithered their way through small gaps that allowed them to follow the procession, testing the patience of police officers who wielded clubs and hinted to the crowd to not get too wild. The parade grew larger as it moved. At one point, the crowds became so large that their overwhelming physical presence threatened to break down a wall that was guarding an area of excavation near Broadway.
Luckily, a courageous Irish fellow was able to prevent the pending disaster by warning the crowds. In order to make sure that the streets did not become too congested, the parade broke-off into smaller detachments. One of these detachments proceeded down Wall Street, which largely went about its business, though “pretty country cousins” and many strangers gaped in wonder as the detachment marched down the street. Finally, according to our New York Times reporter, “All this display was an inspiration to so many imps of office boys, who, from a hundred windows began to unreel the spools of tape that record the fateful message of the ‘ticker….’ Every window appeared to be a paper mill spouting out squirming lines of tape. Such was Wall-Street’s novel celebration.”
Youtube has plenty of videos that capture the use of ticker tape during celebrations, which include New York City’s welcoming of General Douglas MacArthur, astronaut John Glenn, and troops from the Desert Storm War in 1991. In addition, Time magazine’s Laura Fitzpatrick wrote an excellent article “Brief History: Ticker-Tape Parades” about the history of ticker-tape parades on November 6th, 2009; this article is available online. For more information about the parade and access to a contemporary account, please visit www.nytimes.org and search for “The Sights and Sightseers.” For this fact and others, see also Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into History Again.