The Mystick Krewe of Comus led the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans on February 24, 1857, complete with floats, marching bands and flambeaux. In the 1870s, float riders began tossing trinkets to the crowd. Over the years, these floats and throws have become an integral part of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
In 1873, all the floats used in the parades were built in the U.S. for the first time. In 1947, Blaine Kern got in on the float-making business. Blaine Kern Studios is now the world’s leading maker of floats, sculpture and props.
Floats aren’t only a platform for riders to hand out throws, however. Floats are storytellers, inside jokes, political farce, comics, reminders of days past, odes to beauty and more. Over time, the floats have become more and more imaginative, fanciful and large. By law the floats are restricted to a height of 18 feet and a width of 13 feet, but there is no limit to their length. Superfloats presented by some of the larger krewes are 50 feet long.
Each year, every krewe has a new theme, and each year they must change their floats to reflect that theme. Onto the wooden and metal frames go sculptures made of papier-mâché, fiberglass and Styrofoam. Backgrounds and images are airbrushed and hand painted, and gold leaf and other materials are applied over that. It is a full-time job, creating and recreating these beautiful works of art – and nowhere is it done like New Orleans.