NEW YORK -- The ticker tape, torn-up telephone books and toilet paper that shower down on America's champion athletes is part of a tradition that began in 1919 to greet the prince of Wales.
New York has been welcoming heroes with parades since Gen. Lafayette returned to visit the former colonies in 1824. The first paper-shower parade, spontaneous and without ticker tape, was in 1910 for Theodore Roosevelt, returning from a big game hunt.
Since that first use of ticker tape, paper blizzards have greeted heroes from Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur to America's astronauts and even the American hostages released by Iran in 1981.
The brief strip of lower Broadway from the Battery to City Hall has been called Ticker-Tape Trail, Heroes' Highway, Confetti Canyon, Welcome Way, Greetings Gulch -- and, for a while, Astronaut Alley. For the Iranian hostages, it was Back Home Boulevard.
The ticker-tape storm can be traced to 1919 and Grover Whalen, the official New York greeter for decades. Whalen, who always wore a cutaway, top hat and gardenia, was not modest about it at all.
"Contrary to what most people think," he revealed years later about the ticker-tape greeting, "the custom did not grow up spontaneously. In fact, I thought it up."
That was for the welcome of the prince of Wales, who was not very welcome among New York's Irish that year because British troops were occupying Ireland. Mayor John F. Hyland had been urged to call off the parade, and Whalen needed something spectacular to make it a success.
"I hit on the ticker tape idea," Whalen said. "I simply started a word-of-mouth campaign and the idea filtered through the thousands of offices that line the canyon. The workers also tore up phone books, waste paper, any kind of tinsel, and made the confetti snowstorm."
In the 1920s, with colorful Mayor James J. Walker presiding, lower Broadway became Welcome Mat, U.S.A. to Gertrude Ederle, the first woman English channel swimmer; Queen Marie of Romania, the august symbol of dignified royalty; golfer Bobby Jones; and Charles A. Lindbergh, 'Lucky Lindy,' the Long Eagle flier.
Walker in greeting Lindbergh, said:
"Colonel Lindbergh, New York is yours. You won it -- and before you leave you will have to provide us with a new street-cleaning department to clean up the mess."
The record for having the most paper dumped on him is held by former astronaut John Glenn -- 3,474 tons came down on Glenn on March 1, 1962.
In the contest for the biggest crowd ever, MacArthur triumphed in 1951 when Police Commissioner Thomas F. Murphy looked upon his estimators' figures at day's end and pronounced a total of 8 million. That figure might not be entirely accurate, since 8 million was the approximate population of New York City at the time.