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Uniquely New York City (NYC)


New York City (NYC) Times Square
New Year's Eve Ball Drop

Photo Credit: TimesSquareNYC

The actual idea of ball “dropping” to signal the passage of time dates back to long before the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square. The first “time ball” was installed atop England’s Royal Observatory in Greenwich in 1833. This ball would drop precisely at one o’clock in the afternoon allowing the captains of nearby ships to set their chronometers to exact time. The idea became a success and eventually around 150 public time-balls were installed around the world, although few survive and work nowadays. The tradition continues today in places like the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, where a time ball descends daily from a flagpole at noon; and of course, once a year in Times Square, as millions of people worldwide bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one with hopes and joy.

New Year’s Eve has been celebrated in Times Square since 1904, when the owner of The New York Times, Alfred Ochs, threw an inaugural bash for the Times Tower, his paper’s new headquarters. The building became the focal point of an unprecedented New Year’s Eve celebration. An all day street festival ended with spectacular fireworks set from of the tower. The celebration was such a huge success that it instantly replaced the Trinity Church as the ultimate spot in the city for ringing in the New Year.

The New Year’s Eve Ball made its first appearance in 1907. It was a 700 pound iron and wood construction that had a five foot diameter and was decorated with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs. The ball was built by a young immigrant metalworker, Jacob Starr, and for most of the twentieth century his company, Artkraft Strauss, was in charge of lowering the ball. In 1920, the original ball was replaced with a newer, lighter version - a 400 pound creation made entirely of wrought iron.

The ball has been lowered every year since 1907, except 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was suspended due to wartime lighting restrictions. The crowds still gathered in Times Square in those years and greeted the New Year with a minute of silence followed by the ringing of chimes from sound trucks parked at the base of the Times Tower – a reminiscence of the earlier, pre-Times Square celebrations at Trinity Church.

In 1955, an aluminum ball weighing a mere 200 pounds replaced the old iron version. It remained that way until the 1980s, when “I Love New York” marketing converted it into an apple by the addition of green stem and red light bulbs. After seven years the traditional white glowing ball was restored. In 1995 it was furnished with aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobes and computer controls.

For the Times Square 2000 millennium celebration, the ball was redesigned entirely by Waterford Crystal. The ball was a geodesic sphere, six feet in diameter and weighed 1,070 pounds. It was covered with 504 Waterford Crystal triangles. The ball was equipped with computer controlled 696 lights and 90 rotating pyramid mirrors, that produced a magnificent, kaleidoscope color effect.

To honor the Ball Drop's centennial anniversary, a new design debuted for New Year's Eve 2008. The ball was used only once and then put on display at the Times Square Visitors Center. In November 2009, the latest version of the ball by Waterford Crystal was unveiled. It is twice the size of its predecessor and weighs approximately 11,875 pounds. Covered with 2,668 Waterford Crystals and powered by 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDS, the new Ball is capable of creating a palette of 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns producing a spectacular kaleidoscope effect. Organizers also announced that the new ball will become a attraction perched atop One Times Square year-round.

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