Learn the origins of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, and see how the engineering of the Ball has evolved over the past century.
Why do we drop a ball on New Year’s Eve?
The tradition dates back to 19th century maritime England. People in local towns would lower a ball from a high point at exactly one o’clock every day so ship captains could adjust their navigation systems to match the local time.
History of New Year’s Eve in Times Square
In 1904, Times Square was not the iconic New Year’s Eve venue that we know it as today. Back then it was known as Longacre Square, and it was mostly a giant open space with dreary apartments and horses. However, with the growth of electricity and rapid transit, the area began a transformation.
Longacre Square’s development caused an influx of businesses to move in, including The New York Times. In 1904, when the New York Times moved into Longacre Square, the paper’s owner convinced city officials to change the name of the area to Times Square in honor of the paper.
However, a name change wasn’t enough. The New York Times wanted something grander to celebrate its new headquarters. They decided to throw an inaugural, New Year’s Eve bash.
At the time, New Yorkers always celebrated New Year’s Eve at a church that was a few miles away from Times Square. The church elders hated this tradition because of the disruptive, rowdy crowds, so when the Times announced their own celebration, the church was happy to send the crowds to Times Square.
The Times Square party was a huge success, and it quickly became the new popular spot to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
History of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball
The first few New Year’s Eve parties in Times Square didn’t feature a Ball Drop. Instead, the New York Times lit fireworks from the base of their building, but after the city banned this practice in 1907, they decided to adopt the maritime tradition of lowering a giant ball to signal the time of day.
In 1907 during the first Ball Drop, half of the U.S. still used gas lights and candles. So watching 100 shining light bulbs lower from the sky was akin to magic, and the practice became a huge hit.
Even though the New York Times moved out of Times Square in 1914, the Ball Drop tradition has continued at the same building to this day.
Transformation of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball
The Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball has gone through several transformations and editions.
Today it’s covered in crystals and LED modules, but that change was recent. You might remember seeing the old versions that were covered in traditional light bulbs.
Until 1995, the entire Ball Drop team was only seven workers, and for many years they lowered the Ball with ropes, tape markers, and a stopwatch.
1907: The first Ball was made of iron and wood, weighed about 700 pounds, and had 100, 25-watt light bulbs.
1920: The original iron and wood Ball was replaced by a 400-pound one made of complete wrought iron.
1955: The wrought iron Ball made way for an aluminum, 150-pound Ball.
1981-1988: The aluminum Ball was temporarily made up to look like a giant apple as part of the “I Love New York” marketing campaign.
1995: Event organizers added rhinestones and computer controls to the aluminum Ball.
1998: After 40+ years, the aluminum Ball made its final descent.
1999: To welcome the new millennium, Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting partnered to create a whole new Ball. This one had the crystals and triangles that we see today, along with the latest tech:
2007: To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Ball Drop, Waterford and Philips did another redesign. They ditched the incandescent bulbs and went with brighter, color-changing LED lights.
2009: Event organizers introduced a larger version of the Centennial Ball that could sit above Times Square year-round.
Today’s New Year’s Eve Ball
Today’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball, built in 2009, is 12 feet wide, weighs 11,875 pounds, and is covered in 2,688 crystal triangles. It has 32,256 LEDs for red, blue, green, and white, which gives event organizers more than 16 million colors to choose from each year:
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