Times Square Ball – New Year’s Eve Ball Drop

New York Times Square BallEvery December the 31st, over one million people gather in Times Square.  They stand for hours and hours in the same spot, no matter what the weather, all for the same thing: to see the ball drop and ring in the New Year.

Be sure to read our guide to Christmas in New York City as well as our self-guided walking tour of things to see in Times Square.

The ball drop has been a part of New Year’s Eve celebrations in New York City for over 100 years.  When the New York Times made their move from Park Row up to 42nd St (and got the area dubbed Times Square in their honor), they wanted to have a big celebration on New Year’s Eve to commemorate their move uptown.  The first celebration, in 1904, did not include a ball drop.   Over 200,000 people gathered for the new celebration, which included a fireworks display.  After several years of fireworks, the owner of the New York Times, Adolf Ochs, wanted something more.  It was suggested that he include a time ball in the celebration, which would drop down a pole to count down the last minute to the New Year.  Ochs had a ball constructed of wood and iron, which was lit with 100 incandescent light bulbs.  Measuring 5 feet in diameter and weighing 700 pounds, the ball had to be hoisted onto the pole by a team of six men and rope.  The ball was set to complete an electric circuit when it touched the roof, which then lit a sign indicating the New Year and began the fireworks display.  The first ball drop was on December 31, 1907, to welcome the year 1908.

There have been multiple balls throughout the celebration’s history (we have upgraded since that first ball!)

Original Times Square BallBall #2-The original ball was retired in 1920 and was replaced with Ball #2.  Ball #2 was made out of iron and weighed less than the original- about 400 pounds.  Otherwise it was essentially the same design as the original and was also 5 feet in diameter.

Ball #3– Ball #3 was introduced in 1955.  It also used the original design, but this one was made with aluminum.  It was the lightest yet, at 150 pounds.  This ball stayed in use for many years, but had some revisions added.  In 1981, in honor of the “I Love NY” campaign, red light bulbs and a stem on top were added, so that the ball had the appearance of an apple.  In 1991 the bulbs were red, white and blue in honor of the troops in Operation Desert Shield.  In 1996 180 halogen bulbs and 144 strobe lights were added, along with over 12,000 rhinestones, this glitzier drop was also the first to be entirely computerized.  The ball was retired after its 44th use in 1999 celebration.

Ball#4– aka “The Millennium Ball.”  The fourth ball was constructed in conjunction with Waterford crystal.  It is 6 feet wide and weighs 1070 pounds.  It used over 600 halogen bulbs, 96 strobe lights, spinning mirrors and had 504 crystal panels.  The panel were inscribed with hopeful messages, such as “Hope for Unity” and “Hope for Courage.”  For the 2002 celebration they were inscribed by names and countries affected by the 9/11 attacks.

Ball #5– In honor of the centennial Ball Drop, a new ball was constructed for the 2008 celebration.  This ball was also made by Waterford Times Square Balland was also 6 feet wide, but weighed in at 1,212 pounds.  The new ball included 9,576 LED lights that only consumed as much energy as 10 toasters.

Ball #6– First used in the 2009 celebration, this ball is a larger version of its predecessor.  It is 12 feet wide, weighs 11,875 pounds and has 2,688 Waterford panels.  It is lit by 32,256 LED lights.  The other major change, aside from the size, is that this ball is weatherproof.  It can be seen atop One Times Square year-round.


Some More Ball Trivia…

  • The first ball drops were entirely manual.  The ball had to be lowered by a crew with ropes.
  • There were two years that did not have a ball drop.  In 1942 and 1943 we observed wartime dim-outs, and instead people gathered in Times Square for respectful silence and a ringing of chimes at midnight.
  • Before the Times Square celebration got started, the major New Year’s Eve celebration was down by Trinity Church, where they rang the bells for the New Year.
  • Since 1996 the ball has been (symbolically) activated by pressing a “button” (which actually looks like a miniature ball).  This is done by the current mayor of New York and an honored guest.  The guests have ranged from the Clintons to Lady Gaga.  When the ball touches the roof fireworks begin off of the roof on One Times Square while “Auld Lang Syne,” “New York, New York,” “America The Beautiful” (Ray Charles version), “What A Wonderful World” (Louis Armstrong version), and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (IZ version).
  • The moments before the ball drop are usually marked by the playing of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” either a recording or a live performance from a pop star.
  • The celebration actually formally begins around 6pm, which is when the ball is raised into position.
  • The ball travels down a 77 foot pole during its one minute trip.
  • The idea for a ball drop actually came from the old Western Union Building in Lower Manhattan.  Every day, beginning in 1877, at 12 noon they would drop and ball on their roof.  It could be seen all over Lower Manhattan and out in the harbor.  This allowed everyone to synchronize their watches and ship chronometers, thus allowing a standardized time for the city.
  • The 2008 ball (basically a miniature of what is on the roof of One Times Square) is on display in the Times Square Visitor’s Center, so go and take a look!

And of course, don’t forget to look and see the current ball of the roof of One Times Square when you visit!

++In town before New Year’s Eve? There is lots to do in New York City throughout the holiday season, so be sure to check out our post on Christmas in New York for recommendations!++

“TSB2010 cropped” by Times_Square_Ball_2010.jpg: Susan Serra, CKD from Long Island, USAderivative work: Sealle – This file was derived from:Times_Square_Ball_2010.jpg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TSB2010_cropped.jpg#mediaviewer/File:TSB2010_cropped.jpg