Jul 24, 2023 - Culture

A photo history of Utah's impressive and bizarre Pioneer Day floats

A float shaped like a dragon in a parade in 1897.

A dragon glides through Salt Lake City in 1897. Photo via Utah State Historical Society and University of Utah

If there's one thing Utah does well, it's parade floats — and this history of excellence goes back a looooooong time.

  • Honestly, try to imagine putting some of these entries together without modern power tools.

Let's take a look at Pioneer Day parade handiwork of yore!

  • These photos come from the Utah State Historical Society, via the University of Utah's Marriott Library.


A parade float in 1897 shows a giant silkworm spinning silk amid leaves.
A float shows a silkworm spinning amid leaves, representing the pioneers' silk industry.

A near-Disney-caliber float by modern standards rolls through Salt Lake City in 1897 — when only about 50,000 people lived here.

A team of oxen pull a wagon carrying a parade float of a small log cabin in 1980.
A team of oxen pulls a parade float of a log cabin in Salt Lake City, 1880.

You know you've put a lot into your 1880 parade float when the roof on the fake log cabin is nicer than the real one on the building next to it.

A parade float depicts a horse pulling a plow in the 1930s.
A float in Salt Lake City, 1930s.

Imagine the resources that went into this Depression-era float.


If you expected church wards and Utah businesses to restrict themselves to religious and Old West themes for Days of '47 parades, brace yourself.

An 1897 parade float features a frog being attacked by an alicorn-dragon in an ice cave.
A fantasy-themed float in 1897.

Nothing says "pioneer heritage" like a frog being attacked by an alicorn dragon in an ice cave.

A 1912 parade float shows a torpedo sailing over bails of wheat.
Pioneer Day 1912, Salt Lake City.

Would you like some grain with your torpedo?

Women dressed as mermaids on a parade float in 1940.
Pioneer Day 1940, Salt Lake City.

Mermaids and ragey fish put on a show in 1940.

A 1946 parade float shows women in bikinis with a ski lodge and a pergola.
"Furs: Utah's oldest industry." Pioneer Day 1946, Salt Lake City.

How are you going to market furs in July 1946 if not with bikini-clad women around a snowy ski lodge and a garden pergola?

Body builders on a parade float in briefs, 1949.
Whatever happened to Salt Lake's physical culture studios anyway?

Candy for the parade crowds, 1949.

Three girls pose on a parade float featuring a rocket and a sign that reads "A date with the man on the moon."
"A date with the man in the moon." 1959, Uintah County.

Rockets and little girls in princess gowns in 1959.


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