Lighting Up a New Year With an Old Tradition: The History of the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop

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For over a century, Times Square has been a central point for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Dating back to 1903 when the owner of the New York Times first held a fireworks display to celebrate the opening of the newspaper’s new headquarters at One Times Square, this New York City location has been leading the world in New Year’s Eve festivities, growing larger each year. Starting in 1907, the New Year has been rung in with the ball descending the flagpole atop One Times Square while wmillions of people gather in the streets of New York City.

Even though the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop is the most famous, the ball drop tradition started long ago in England. Dating back to 1833 in Greenwich, a ball was dropped to signal the passing of time specifically for captains in nearby ships. Today, the ball drops at the stroke of midnight to signal the passing of time for a new year, not for captains, but for millions of spectators around the world.

The first New York New Year’s Ball Drop that rang in 1908 was five feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds. In 1920, a wrought iron ball weighing 400 pounds replaced the original. After 35 years, the aluminum ball took over the job of signaling the start of the New Year. This aluminum ball remained consistent throughout the years until 1981 when it was transformed into a giant apple for the “I Love New York” campaign. The most memorable ball drop was the Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting ball, which rang in the new millennium. In 2007, these two companies again teamed together to create a spectacular sight for all who witnessed the ball for the 100th anniversary.

With the exception of 1942 and 1943, the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop has been a staple of New Year’s celebrations. In 1942 and 1943, the celebration had to cease in the midst of World War II and the dimout of lights in New York City. Despite these regulations, crowds still gathered where the celebration usually takes place and filled Times Square. At the stroke of midnight, instead of lowering a ball, there was a minute of silence followed by chimes ringing from trucks parked at One Times Square.

Today, there is a ball above One Times Square all year long. It consists of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles illuminated by 32,256 Philips Luxeon LEDs. Even though this is an attraction available all year long, millions of people trek to Times Square on Dec. 31 to watch the tradition unfold, while millions of others watch on their TVs worldwide.

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Jessica Link is a senior in professional writing with minors in Spanish and economics. She’s an SEO marketing intern and avid Miami Dolphins fan. She spends her free time laughing at her own jokes, looking at pictures of puppies and eating any and all forms of cheese and potatoes.