Monday, December 31, 2012

Ringing in the New Year: Quick History of the Times Square Ball Drop

It is attended by nearly 1 million people ever year, and it is estimated that nearly 1 billion people watch it via television world-wide. The now iconic dropping of the Times Square Ball is the single most famous New Years Eve celebration in the world. So, when did this tradition beginning? Why IS there a Ball that is dropped in the first place?

The tradition of a celebration at Times Square dates back December 31, 1903. That year, the New York Times had opened it's new headquarters at the triangularly shaped One Times Square building at what was at the time known as Longacre Square (which was renamed as Times Square in April, 1904). To celebrate the opening of their new headquarters, the Times held a big New Years Eve party in the Square, culminating in a huge fireworks display at midnight. This first party was attended by more than 200,000 people. The owner of the Times wanted to create an even bigger spectacle, and so the idea was hatched in 1907 for a large time ball to be dropped from the flag pole atop One Times Square. 

A quick aside. What is a "time ball," exactly? Well, it was used as a way to help ships sailing along the coasts to verify their marine chronometers. It would be hoisted every day at the same time from a tower and then dropped (usually at 1p.m. in the British Isles, and at 12 p.m in the United States). 

So this first Times Square Time Ball was hoisted to the top of One Time Square on December 31, 1907, and dropped one second after midnight, the followed by the fireworks as in previous celebrations. This first Time Ball was built of iron and wood, weighed close to 700 pounds and five feet in diameter, and was lit with 100 incandescent light bulbs. This same ball would be used every year until 1920. That year, a new ball was created, with the same diameter but only weighing 400 pounds. This ball was scrapped in 1955, replaced with a new ball built of aluminum, weighing only 150 pounds. This ball would remain in service until 1999, when it was scrapped and replaced with a new time ball in honor of the Millennium. This Millennium Ball was 6 feet in diameter, created by the Waterford Crystal company, and weighed nearly 1,000 pounds. In 2006, new LED lights were installed in the Ball. However, this was the last year that the Millennium Ball was used. The following year, to celebrate the centennial of the ball drop tradition, a fifth ball was created, essentially a replica of the previous ball, but with a new computerized lighting system. This Fifth Ball was only used in 2007, replaced in 2008 with a Ball that was essentially the same overall design but on a much larger scale, being 12 feet in diameter. This new ball required the installation of a new and larger flag pole atop One Times Square. Starting with this new, Sixth Ball, the Time Square Ball is on display year-round. 

I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season, and I want to wish all my readers a Happy New Year! May 2013 be better than 2012. 

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