For those of the thousands about to line up to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person, or the millions of viewers watching at home, it is time to pay tribute to the father of the parade balloons: Tony Sarg.
Sarg was an illustrator, cartoonist, designer, puzzle creator and puppeteer. At the height of his popularity during the Great Depression, he earned $80,000 per year. He became so well-known that his visage appeared in product advertising. He also owned a restaurant with a bar that became a popular watering hole for the New York illustration elite.
Anthony Frederick Sarg was born on April 21,1880, in Coban, Guatemala, the son of the German Counsel and an English mother. His maternal Grandmother was an artist and held an extensive collection of dolls, marionettes. miniature houses and mechanical toys, which he inherited. This led to a lifelong fascination with puppetry. In 1887 the family returned to Germany, where he entered the German military academy Lichterfelde. While there he began visiting publishers to show his portfolio of drawings.
In 1905, he met his bride to be, Bertha Eleanor McGowan, an American visiting Germany. Upon leaving the service they relocated to England. They married in 1909 and had a daughter Mary. He soon became fascinated with the Holden Marionette Troupe. Initially utilizing marionettes he already possessed from his grandmother’s collection, he began performing himself.
With the onset of World War I, he relocated the family to the U.S., renting a studio in the Flat Iron building in 1915. Within two years he was in demand both as an illustrator and puppeteer, illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post. In 1928, he was commissioned by Macy’s Department Store to create series of helium filled, rubberized silk animal balloons for their Thanksgiving Day Parade. The largest, a rubber dragon, was 125 feet long and took 50 handlers to operate. He followed this in 1935 with the first of Macy’s animated Christmas windows. He soon opened a small chain of toy stores and curiosity shops, and the restaurant Bohemia, where his “puppets entertained nightly…the celebrities of the stage and literary fame flock,” according to The Tuscaloosa News on February 22, 1933. He designed all the tablecloths, linen-ware and napkins. Sadly, Tony Sarg’s fortunes took a downturn and he filed for bankruptcy in 1939. He died in 1942 from complications of a ruptured appendix, at age 61.