Somewhere beneath the inflated cartoon characters and just shy of the Rockettes’ high kicks, an Indiana institution will find its place in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The first Macy’s parade wound through the streets of Manhattan in 1924, but Purdue’s marching band represents an even older tradition. In fact, the band sought a place in the 2010 parade to kick off its 125th year on the West Lafayette campus.
Formed as a drum corps for the Purdue Student Army Training Corps in 1886, the band of five musicians grew to 50 by 1902. Although it performed primarily for military drills and ceremonies, the band had broadened its scope to athletics with the introduction of football to campus in 1887.
When the band broke traditional military formation during a 1907 football game to create the letter “P” on the field, it was the first marching band to do so.
In 1919, the band performed for the opening ceremonies for the Indy 500 race, a role it has fulfilled ever since.
In addition to numerous bowl games and international tours, the All-American Marching band has performed for a Presidential inauguration parade and was the first collegiate marching band to be invited to perform in Beijing.
Renowned for possessing the world’s largest bass drum, the Purdue band is also distinguished as the first to have produced an alumnus who would walk on the moon. Neil Armstrong played baritone horn during his sophomore year, the band’s 1952-53 season.