Milwaukee Holiday Parade – Where It All Started?

One of Milwaukee’s longest events was the Milwaukee Holiday Parade, which was held for close to a century before it was halted in 2017. The Milwaukee Holiday traced its origins to the parades sponsored by the department stores of Gimbels and Schuster’s. Although a Christmas parade was held by Gimbels for many consecutive years, it is the Schuster-sponsored parades that started in 1927 that are most popular. The premier version of the Christmas parade by Schuster’s had the likes of Santa Clause alongside his reindeer and featured the Eskimo reindeer handler, Me-Tik, as well as Billie the Brownie, two names that later became advertising mainstays during the following Christmas holidays. In 1962, Schuster’s was acquired by Gimbels and the new owners canceled the Schuster’s parade, focusing instead on the annual parade of the Downtown Association.

According to Paul Geenen, a Milwaukee Historian, Schuster’s started its initial parade a few years after their rival, Gimbels halted its annual Thanksgiving parade. The initial Milwaukee Holiday Parade by Schusters, hosted on 26th November 1927, started at Wisconsin’s Avenue’s eastern end marching to the west beyond the flagship store of their rival, Gimbels, at Plankinton Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue. The parade came to a conclusion at North Eleventh Street. Some of the inaugural parade attractions included Santa and his reindeer, the Eskimo, Me-Tik, as well as the Eskimo Band.

For many of the years that followed, the reindeer became a holiday staple. Every year the Milwaukee Holiday Parade was held in the holiday season as a distinct event in a parking lot structure of the Schuster’s shop at Vliet and Twelfth Street. The Milwaukee Holiday Parade had significant influence and was responsible for the making of Billie the Brownie who later became a Christmas holiday mainstay thanks to WTMJ radio and the marketing department of Schuster’s. The inaugural event was hugely successful attracting thousands of people, a crowd that grew with every preceding year. Over the years, the Milwaukee Holiday Parade, which originally started with streetcars, animals, and a band, grew in ambition and length.

By the early 1950s, the Milwaukee Holiday Parade had experienced substantial growth and reversed the course of history. Since the parade’s launch in 1927 up to 1955, the parade used the route of streetcar tracks. In 1956, the Milwaukee Holiday Parade took the mounted trucks route. With the growth of Schuster’s (which was one of the capital court developers, the shopping establishment that was launched in 1956 at W. Capitol Drive and North Sixtieth Street, the route used by the Milwaukee Holiday parade also changed.

In 2018, Milwaukee Holiday Parade’s organizer, the Holiday Parade Foundation of Milwaukee announced that the 2017 edition of the parade would be its last. The annual event was free to attend for more than sixty years since the DeGrace family started organizing it. In 2018, however, the Degrace family decided to retire from the yearly parade. The Milwaukee Holiday Parade had been one of Milwaukee’s holiday staple events for more than ninety years. Initially launched by Department Store of Schuster’s as a way to start the holiday shopping period. The parade has been under the leadership of the DeGrace family since 1953 until it was halted in 2018.

Leave a Comment