Parade History

The AES 500 Festival Parade is one of the 500 Festival’s original events. It began in 1957 with four community leaders who recognized the need to create a special event further connecting the Indianapolis community and downtown to the Indianapolis 500. The “dream-makers” conceived the name “500 Festival” and charted the steps to launch the project. With only 60 days until the Indy 500, the organizing committee planned two community events: a parade and a ball. It was a mighty task, but where there’s a will, there had to be a way.


In its first year, the 500 Festival Parade was an evening event, taking place on the night before the 41st Running of the Indianapolis 500. On Wednesday, May 29, 1957, at exactly 7:00 pm, a cannon boomed across the Indianapolis skyline and the 500 Festival Parade took to the streets of downtown Indy.  The Parade lineup consisted of nearly every high school band in the Indianapolis area, the Purdue University “All American” Marching Band, various marching units and clowns from the Murat Temple, the Indianapolis Police Department Motorcycle Drill Team, the Culver Military Academy Black Horse Troop, the Indiana National Guard’s 38th Division and other local military organizations, 20 floats and all 33 drivers in the 1957 Indy 500. There were celebrity participants as well with actress Cyd Charisse and Hugh O’Brien, television’s “Wyatt Earp,” perched on the backs of convertibles. The Grand Marshal of the first 500 Festival Parade was Lt. General G.W. Arnold, Commander, U.S. 5th Army. The community support for the Parade was overwhelming – a crowd of over 150,000 people lined the parade route. With that, a beloved tradition was born. 


Six decades later, the AES 500 Festival Parade has grown to become one of the signature events in the U.S. each year. The AES 500 Festival Parade consistently ranks among the nation’s top three parades, alongside the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The AES 500 Festival Parade is the largest event held in downtown Indianapolis each year.


A full year of planning goes into every AES 500 Festival Parade. A volunteer committee, guided by the 500 Festival’s small but mighty team of full time staff, work to plan this iconic event. Today, the Parade lineup consists of more than 80 entries, including larger-than-life floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands and military units, celebrities and entertainers, all 33 drivers competing in the Indy 500. On the day of the Parade, more than 800 volunteers help execute the event’s details while more than 200,000 spectators line the AES 500 Festival Parade’s route through the streets of downtown Indy. An additional one million spectators tune in to the parade’s national broadcast Peacock and local broadcast to the Indianapolis market on WTHR, Channel 13. 


The 500 Festival has grown to become an organization that provides year-round programs and events for half a million people every year. The journey that started with a handful of civic-minded individuals has created a history that all Hoosiers can look to with pride, a sense of involvement and a growing feeling of community accomplishment.


Interested in more Parade history?

You can view the timeline of the AES 500 Festival Parade, including theme and grand marshal HERE.

To view photos, past programs, and other 500 Festival archived items, check the 500 Festival Digital Archival Collection, hosted courtesy of IUPUI’s Center for Digital Scholarship.