The History of The Ball Drop In Times Square
Times Square in New York City has hosted America's New Year's Eve celebration for over a century now. The ball drop has become a New Year's Eve icon, along with the confetti, star-studded performances, midnight kisses, and top hats. Every year, millions of people, in person or on TV, turn to New York to ring in the New Year. The Times Square ball drop has been a tradition since 1907 and has symbolized new beginnings and a fresh start.
The First New Year's Celebration Dates Back 4,000 Years
New Year's actually dates back four thousand years, when Julius Caesar, the emperor of Rome, was the first to declare January first a national holiday. He named the month of January after Janus, the Roman god of doors and gates.
Janus was known to have two faces, one looking forward and one looking back, which Caesar felt was fitting to name a month after. However, they didn't celebrate with a ball drop four thousand years ago.
Times Square New Year’s Eve Began In 1904 Without A Ball Drop
Times Square in New York City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in America, especially on New Year's Eve. The first New Year's Eve party in Times Square was held in 1904, which was the new headquarters of the New York Times.
In 1904, Times Tower was the second tallest building in New York City, and roughly two hundred thousand people attended the party that year. When the clock struck midnight, the tower was lit with fireworks, but there was no ball drop yet for another three years.
A Firework Ban Led To The First Times Square Ball Drop In 1907
In 1907, fireworks were banned, so they had to come up with a new idea for the New Year's Eve party in Times Square. A seven-hundred-pound ball was manually lowered from atop the Times Tower flagpole at 11:59 p.m.
That was the first year of the New Year's Eve ball drop, and also that year, the people working the party were supplied with battery-powered top hats with the number 1908 fashioned of tiny light bulbs.
Hats Have Been Big Since The Start
While ringing in the year 1908 and the first Times Square ball being dropped, it was also when people started wearing hats. Waiters and workers at the surrounding hotels and restaurants were given top hats to wear with '1908' in small lights.
When the clock hit midnight, and the ball dropped, the workers all flipped their hats so that the '1908' lit up. Since that year, wearing party hats and top hats at Times Square's New Year's Eve party has become a tradition.
Times Square Did Not Invent The Time-Telling Ball Drop
It wasn't Times Square that first invented the time telling ball drop. From the English Royal Navy, Captain Robert Wauchope was the first who thought to signal time with the drop of a ball from a tall building.
The purpose was to help other captains rightly set their chronometers. However, the invention proved to be mostly useless to the captains that Wauchope intended to help. Still, there were one hundred and fifty balls installed worldwide, including one in New York in 1877.
A Times Square Ball Drop Occurred Almost Every Year Since 1907
Since 1907, the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve has happened every year except two. The only years the ball didn't drop in Times Square were in 1942 and 1943, during the war.
Every year the ball drops and brings in the new year while millions of people celebrate in Times Square. The ball has changed throughout the years, but every year people show up and celebrate another year and the possibilities it brings.
The Warmest Times Square New Year’s Celebration Was In 1965
The weather in December in New York is always unpredictable. The warmest New Year's Eve party in Times Square was in 1965. It was the fifty-seventh time the ball had dropped, and it was fifty-eight degrees out at midnight.
The warm southwest winds were responsible for the mild air, and earlier that day, the temperature actually reached a record high of sixty-three degrees. The warm weather made it a lot more comfortable for the millions of people standing outside all day.
The Coldest Times Square New Year’s Celebration Was In 1917
When it's single digits outside, it makes it miserable for the people standing outside on New Year's Eve. December 31, 1917, was the coldest New Year's Eve in Times Square on record.
It was the eleventh year of the ball drop, and at midnight, it was only one degree out in New York City. Not only was it only one degree, but the wind was also blowing as well and made it negative eighteen degrees. The high for that day was just six degrees above zero.
The Ball Drop Takes 60 Seconds Starting At 11:59
Every year on New Year's Eve, the Times Square ball rises at 6 p.m., and then at 11:59 p.m., the ball begins its sixty-second descent. The ball finishes its descent down the flagpole at midnight.
Originally, in the first several years, the ball was hoisted on the building's seventy-foot flagpole with rope by a team of six men. Eventually, the drop became computerized through an electric winch.
In 1987, A One-Second Light Show Was Added To Accommodate A ‘Leap Second’
In 1987 and several other years, the 'leap second' was added to keep the planet's rotation in line with atomic clocks. So, strobe lights were added to the year's ball, and they added the word leap to the countdown.
The countdown went "Three, Two, One, Leap, Zero." The strobes lit up at leap and then at zero, the strobes disappeared, and the lit-up 1988 appeared. There have been twenty-six leap seconds introduced, and the last one was in 2016.
There Have Been Seven Versions Of The Times Square Ball
There have been several versions of the New Year's Eve Times Square ball, seven to be exact. Originally, the ball was a seven hundred pound wood and iron ball. It was replaced in 1920 with a lighter four hundred pound wrought iron ball.
Then in 1955, the ball was replaced with a one hundred and fifty-pound aluminum ball, and then in 1995, rhinestones and computer controls were added. Finally, the ball was switched to modern LED lights in 2007. There were two other versions of the ball as well throughout the years.
From 1981 To 1988, The Ball Drop Was An Apple Drop
From the year 1981 until 1988, the lights on the aluminum ball were red, and a green stem completed the apple ball. The ball was transformed to resemble an apple in conjunction with the city's "I Love New York" campaign.
It was the marketing campaign that Milton Glaser created the iconic "I [heart] NY" logo in the 1970s. 1988 was the last year that the ball resembled an apple and was also the last year that Russ Brown, superintendent of One Times Square, managed the ball dropping.
There Was A Glitch The First Year Computers Got Involved
In 1996, the ball drop was switched to automated instead of manual. However, it wasn't without its glitches. The ball was supposed to go dim at midnight to give way for the glow of the 1996 sign, but the ball stayed lit.
The operators cut off the ball's descent halfway through, which pushed the end of the drop a couple of seconds into 1966. This meant that the ball remained lit in the air for three seconds past midnight and marked the 'first mistake of 1996.'
The Current Ball Is 12 Feet In Diameter And Weighs Nearly 12,000 Pounds
The Times Square ball is currently more than twice the diameter of the original ball from 1907. It is also almost seventeen times heavier. The very first New Year's Eve ball was only five feet in diameter and weighed about seven hundred pounds.
It was designed by an immigrant metalworker, Jacob Starr, and was initially adorned with one hundred light bulbs. The lightest that the ball ever weighed was one hundred and fifty pounds when it was aluminum.
It Is Covered With A Total Of 2,688 Waterford Crystal Triangles Illuminated By 32,256 LEDs
The crystals on the Times Square ball vary in size, and the length ranges from 4 3/4 inches to 5 3/4 inches per side. The current ball has the crystals bolted to six hundred and seventy-two LED modules attached to the ball's aluminum frame.
The six hundred and seventy-two LED modules each contain forty-eight LEDs in four colors. They contain twelve blue, twelve white, twelve red, and twelve green lights. In total, the ball is covered with two thousand, six hundred and eighty-eight crystal triangles.
Each Year, The Ball Design Changes To Accommodate A New Theme
The Times Square ball has gone through many changes and themes, including the apple theme and a special theme honoring September eleventh. The latest designs are from 2014 until 2023, and each year will display a 'gift,' including the "gift of Imagination" and "Gift of Love."
From 2008 to 2013, the ball contained crystal patterns from the Waterford series known as "World of Celebration," including "Let There Be Joy" and "Let There Be Peace."
The 2002 Design Honored 9/11
In 2001, the ball's theme was "Hope for Healing" and was in honor of the September eleventh attacks. As the ball was brought to the top of the flagpole, bells rang around the city. The ball had five hundred and four crystals, and they were marked with tallies of the presumed lives lost.
The crystals were also engraved with the police and firehouses, foreign nations, airlines, and flight numbers of the victims. The security was tightened with bomb-sniffing dogs and seven thousand officers with handheld metal detectors.
Enjoying A Glass Of Champagne Is A Common New Year’s Tradition As Well
Another New Year's Eve tradition at the Times Square ball drop is enjoying a glass of champagne. It was originally popularized in the court of Louis XIV with the wealthy and royalty.
Eventually, the champagne became associated with celebration and holiday family gatherings. Champagne became a must for New Year's Eve by the twentieth century, and there is an abundance of it at the Times Square ball drop celebration.
A Special Guest Activated The Ball Drop
Special guests started activating the ball in the 1990s, and the first person was Oseola McCarty, the philanthropist. The following years had Mary Ann Hopkins, Muhammad Ali, Lady Gaga, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Oseola McCarty donated one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to fund financial aid for black students at the University of Mississippi. She joined New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in activating the Times Square ball.
There Is Also A Ton Of Confetti That Drops
Since 1992, confetti started being a staple of the Times Square New Year's Eve party. Treb Heining is known as the confetti master and he and his group of dispersal engineers drop over one ton of confetti onto Times Square on New Year's Eve every year.
They drop the confetti twenty seconds before midnight, from on top of eight nearby buildings. They drop eco-friendly, recycled, and biodegradable confetti, and even thirty minutes later, the confetti can be seen flying around the people.
Your New Year’s Wish Can Be Featured On A Piece Of Confetti
In December in New York City, there is a New Year's Eve Wishing Wall where anyone can go and write their hopes and dreams for the new year on a piece of confetti. On New Year's Eve, all of the papers from the Wishing Wall are added to the confetti that is dropped over Times Square.
People can either write their wishes themselves on the wall located on Broadway between 46th and 47th, or you can submit it online, and it will be added to the ton of confetti that gets dropped.
How Many People Show Up On NYE Is Debated
There were roughly two hundred thousand people that attended the first New Year's Eve ball drop. It was estimated that five hundred thousand attended Times Square in 1998, and then that number doubled to about one million in 1999.
The New York Police Department estimated that in 2018 there were about two million people in Times Square on New Year's Eve. However, crowd science experts claim that Times Square could never hold that many people.
Clean Up Is A Beast
Cleaning up the mess left behind after the Times Square New Year's Eve party is a job in itself. The Department of Sanitation performs a massive cleanup with about three hundred overnight workers.
The workers use backpack blowers, hand brooms, mechanical brooms, collection trucks, rack trucks, and five holsters to clean up the fifty-six tons of debris left behind in Times Square.
Dick Clark First Stole The Show In 1972
Dick Clark was a radio and television personality, and he broadcast his first New Year's Rockin' Eve program in 1972. He began as a reporter on the scene at Times Square and then took over being the official host in 1975.
Clark made the show famous, and he continued hosting until 2011. The show consistently remained the highest-rated New Year's Eve special broadcast in the United States and was broadcast by ABC.
Thousands Of People Stand Out All Day For A Spot To Watch The Ball Drop
The people that want to be in Times Square on New Year's Eve for the ball drop start arriving in Times Square around noon. However, there aren't any public bathrooms in the surrounding area, so some people wear adult diapers or bring a bottle with them.
It's also usually very cold because it's December in New York City. The temperature is typically in the teens or twenties, so you need to dress accordingly and then be prepared to stand in the same spot for hours.
Before Clark, There Was Guy Lombardo
Guy Lombardo, along with his big band, ruled New Year's Eve radio airwaves and then switched to television. Guy Lombardo inspired Dick Clark with his Royal Canadian's New Year's Eve Party.
When Lombardo switched to TV, he allowed audiences an at-home look into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to watch guys and gals dine and dance into a new year. Lombardo was called Mr. New Year's Eve, and he popularized the song "Auld Lang Syne."
Thank Guy Lombardo For “Auld Lang Syne”
Guy Lombardo popularized "Auld Lang Syne" as the unofficial New Year's Eve song. The version that is used the most today is based on a poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Traditionally, the song was sung to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve and is also used at graduations, funerals, and as a farewell to other occasions. Lombardo would play "Should old acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind...." all over the airways.
“Imagine” By John Lennon Offers A Newer Musical Tradition
John Lennon's song "Imagine" was played over the Times Square speakers in 2005 before the ball drop, and it has since become a tradition at the New Year's Eve event. Taio Cruz was the first artist to perform "Imagine" live in 2010.
Some other artists that have performed the song are Rachel Platten, Train, and Bebe Rexha. CeeLo Green also performed it live but was criticized for changing the lyrics and disrespecting John Lennon.
Times Square Has Influenced The Creation Of Other Fun New Year’s Eve Drops
The ball drop in New York City has influenced other fun New Year's Eve Drops around the world. Alabama drops a MoonPie, Arizona has the Great Pine Cone Drop, and Idaho has the Potato Drop. The Hard Rock Cafe in Memphis rings in the New Year with its annual guitar drop, and Raleigh, North Carolina, drops a giant copper acorn.
On New Year's Eve, St. George's in Bermuda drops a giant paper mache Bermuda onion decorated with holiday lights. Finally, Mount Olive in North Carolina drops a giant pickle that is fully lit.
When The Ball Drops, It’s Tradition To Kiss Someone
Another tradition when the ball drops at midnight is to kiss the one you love. It is likely rooted in German and English folklore, with the belief that the first person you encountered at the start of the new year determined your fortunes in the year ahead.
Eventually, people started just kissing someone they already knew and liked, so that their year started off good. You will most likely see everyone in the crowd at Times Square kissing when the clock strikes twelve.
The Ball Is Raised At 6 p.m. On NYE
In Times Square, the New Year's Eve party begins when the ball is raised to the top of the tower at One Times Square. It is raised at 6 p.m. in a ceremonial lighting event, where representatives from Philips Lighting Company flip the switch.
Next, the ball illuminates and ascends, and the party begins. The evening includes live performances, music, dancing, and a lot of drinking. Then, at 11:59 p.m., the ball starts its descent until the clock strikes midnight.
The First Ball Was Made Of Iron And Wood
The very first ball to be dropped in Times Square was made from wood and iron and measured five feet in diameter, weighing seven hundred pounds. Jacob Starr of the Artkraft Strauss Company designed the ball and decorated it with one hundred light bulbs.
The company was then in charge of lowering the ball with an elaborate pulley system. The whole plan was Adolph Ochs, and he started a tradition that is still going strong today.
In 1920, The Ball Was Replaced With A Ball Made From Wrought Iron
At the beginning of the roaring 1920s, the ball was changed for the first time. The iron and wood ball was replaced with a wrought iron ball. The ball weighed less than the original, weighing in at four hundred pounds.
It didn't feature any of the flashy decorations like today's ball has. The ball didn't change much after that until 1955 when it was recreated and made entirely of aluminum. Again, the ball was much less flashy than it is today.
From 1942 To 1943, The Ball Drop Was Suspended Due To Wartime
Starting in 1907, the ball has dropped in Times Square on New Year's Eve every year except in 1942 and 1943. During the war, there was a citywide 'dim-out' to cut back on energy costs. Also, New York City took a break from the ball drop in order to protect the city from Axis bombings.
However, the crowds still formed, but instead of celebrating the new year, they observed a minute of silence that was followed by the sound of chimes playing from a sound truck.
Before Dropping A Ball In Times Square, People Would Gather Downtown At A Church To Ring Bells
Before the 1900s and the Times Square ball drop, Americans would gather outside the Trinity Church near Wall Streat in Manhattan to celebrate the new year. Then, at midnight, the bells would chime to "ring out the old, ring in the new," and people celebrated on the steps of the church.
However, things changed when The New York Times Company moved uptown to forty-sixth Street and Broadway. That's when the fireworks display in Times Square began.
In 1955, The Ball Was Recreated And Made Entirely Of Aluminum
In 1955, the Times Square New Year's Eve ball was recreated and made entirely out of aluminum. It weighed just one hundred and fifty pounds, which was the lightest the ball ever weighed throughout the years.
The ball was much less fancy and didn't have all of the glitter and sparkle. It was also still raised and lowered manually. The ball remained mostly unchanged until the 1980s when it was transformed into an apple.
In 1995, The Ball Was Adorned With An Aluminum Skin, Rhinestones, And Strobes
The Times Square ball remained an apple until 1989 when it was returned to the traditional aluminum white ball. Then, in 1995, the New Year's Eve ball was adorned with aluminum skin, strobes, and rhinestones.
However, the most important upgrade to the ball drop was the addition of computer controls that lowered the ball at 11:59 p.m. In 1998, the aluminum ball was dropped for the very last time; it was completely transformed after that.
In 2000, The Ball Was Completely Transformed And Redesigned Using Crystals
In 2000, the New Year's Eve ball was transformed again to celebrate the new millennium. The ball was redesigned by Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting and was decorated with crystals and lighting that lit up the sky.
It combined the latest in lighting technology with the most traditional of materials, which reminded us of our past as we looked to the future and the beginning of a new millennium. The year 2000 was a huge milestone.
In 2007, The Ball Was Upgraded With LED Lights
In 2007, on New Year's Eve, it marked one hundred years since the first ball dropped. A new ball was created to celebrate the anniversary by Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting again, but this time they used LED lights.
The new LED lighting could change colors, increase brightness, and dazzle audiences. The new ball was called the Centennial Ball, which is still used today and weighs seventeen times more than the ball used in 1907.
The First Time Ball Was On Top Of England’s Royal Observatory At Greenwich
A red 'Time Ball' was installed in 1833 on the roof of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Every day at one in the afternoon, the ball dropped on the Old Observatory in order to set World Time.
The ball dropped at one every day because astronomers were busy with their telescopes with the midday sun. The USA 'Time Ball' in Washington D.C. was installed in 1845 and dropped every day at noon; however, it was discontinued until the millennium.
The Ball Drop Celebration Was Started By Adolph Ochs
New York Times owner Adolph Ochs was the mastermind behind the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square. He wanted to celebrate the opening of the newspaper's new headquarters, One Times Square, so he had a fireworks show on the southern roof of the building to welcome 1905. After a few years of fireworks, Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle, and his chief electrician at the paper suggested using a time ball.
"The idea was to have it illuminated with the brand new electricity that had just come up to the neighborhood. And it was lowered by hand, starting at one minute to midnight, and that was the way it was done for many years." It was the adaptation of an old, useful thing. It was instantly popular. People just loved it. ------ Tama Ochs.
The Ball Is Dropped On The 1 Times Square Building
The New Year's Eve Times Square ball is dropped from the One Times Square building, which is also known as the New York Times Building or Times Tower. It is a skyscraper in New York City, and it is considered one of the most valuable advertising locations in the world.
The tower was built in 1903 and 1904 and was built to serve as the headquarters of The New York Times. The building is a major focal point of the area because of the annual New Year's Eve ball drop.
In 1999, A Ceremonial Switch Was Installed On Top Of One Times Square
In 1999, a ceremonial switch was installed on top of One Times Square Building. As a result, New Year's Eve 1999 was referred to as Millennium Eve. The ceremonial switch was installed, and when flipped, the ball begins its sixty-second descent down the pole.
Every year a notable figure or famous person gets to flip the ceremonial switch to activate the ball. It is a special honor to be asked to activate the ball drop on New Year's Eve.
In 2008, A Permanent Ball Was Installed
The Centennial Ball inspired the owners of One Times Square to build a permanent Big Ball in its place. The new, permanent ball weighs almost six tons and is twelve feet in diameter.
There are 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles that are illuminated by LEDs. It is now a year-round attraction sparkling above Times Square for public view from January through December, and it is now called the Big Times Square New Year's Eve Ball.
The First Ball Was Designed By Artkraft Strauss
Ochs decided to create a ball for the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, and he hired the sign designer Artkraft Strauss to build the ball. It was built to light a five-foot-tall sign to light up on all four sides of the building.
It was Jacob Starr, an immigrant metalworker, that created a new visual display. He worked for Artkraft Strauss as the president. Of course, the ball has been recreated several times since.
NBC Broadcast The Ball Drop Starting In The 1940s
Since the 1940s, NBC has broadcast coverage of New Year's Eve celebrations at Times Square. The coverage later became part of special New Year's Eve episodes of The Tonight Show, which lasted through Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.
NBC also aired the first couple of years of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve television special. Then, later covered New Year's Eve with Carson Daly and finally NBC's New Year's Eve show that was hosted by Daly and Chrissy Teigen.
Dick Clark Hosted The New Year’s Eve Celebrations From 1973 Until 2004
Dick Clark hosted the New Year's Eve Rockin' Eve television special from 1973 until 2004 and became a staple of the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square. Sadly, in 2004, Clark had a stroke and was unable to continue hosting the New Year's Eve event.
Clark was a beloved part of the ball drop every year but was left unable to speak clearly, and in 2012, he died from a heart attack at the age of eighty-two.
Mariah Carey’s Ball Drop Performance Blunder
Mariah Carey has been a frequent performer at the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball Drop celebration. However, in 2016, she had a very talked-about performance. She fumbled her way through three very awkward performances when she couldn't hear the backup vocals and got flustered.
For her second song, she barely sang and then paused to tell the audience that they didn't do a soundcheck. Finally, in her last song, she had just kind of given up and looked totally defeated.
New Year's Eve Ranks Fourth On Americans' List of Favorite Holidays
Believe it or not, but New Year's Eve ranks fourth on the list of Americans' favorite holidays. Roughly forty-one percent of the population say New Year's Eve is their favorite holiday, thanks largely to the Times Square ball drop.
Funny enough that twelve percent of Americans actually fall asleep before midnight on New Year's Eve. Of course, there are a good amount of people that say New Year's Eve is an extremely overrated holiday.