The complete history behind the famous Times Square Drop Ball

Less than a week ago world has welcomed 2014. From Australia to London, Paris to Rio de Janeiro, lots of cities have celebrated new year with fireworks. But in one city only people face intense cold to watch a dropping ball: New York City. By now celebrating new year’s Eve in Times Square is a celebration famous all around the world, but what do you know about it?

                  The history behind Time Balls                      

What time is it? Nowadays it’s easy to answer: we have watches, clocks, cellphones, but have you ever thought about how hard it was to answer when people had not all these tools? Well, time-telling began in Italy in 1335 when churches  began telling the hours ringing once at 1 a.m. and culminating in 24 chimes at midnight. People have had to wait until 1700 for the minute hand shows up on watches.

Accuracy improved vastly during the industrial revolution and was honed at sea: ship captains needed extremely precise clocks to coordinate their celestial readings with the time those readings would occur at a known point – usually Greenwich, England (the city that later lent its name to Greenwich Mean Time, the world’s standard time). John Harrison, the famous clockmaker, developed a chronometer accurate and portable enough to do the job in 1761, and ultimately changed the world.

Knowing the exact time at sea was exceptionally difficult but was crucial to navigators, who used it to calculate their precise longitude. To determine the time, seafarers relied on a marine chronometer, an apparatus that resembled an oversized pocket watch, carefully gimballed in a wooden box to keep it level as rough seas rose and fell. In the early 19th century, entered the time ball: in 1818, Captain Robert Wauchope, of the Royal Navy, had a better idea. Why not use a visual signal from a coastal naval observatory, coördinated by telegraph, that captains could see from their decks?

In 1829 the Admiralty gave it a shot, setting up the world’s first time ball in the harbor at Portsmouth, England. It worked so well that in 1833 they set one up at the Royal Observatory in Flamsteed House, on a Greenwich hilltop. The ball, which was visible to ships at anchor, would be dropped every day at 1 p.m. At 12:55 p.m., the red, wood-and-leather ball was raised halfway up a 15-foot mast atop the building; at 12:58 it went to the top; and on the hour the ball began to drop, the start of its downward motion signaling exactly 1 p.m. [more info here]

The time ball at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London, UK.

The time ball at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London, UK.

      The history behind Times Square Drop Ball      

After Adolph Ochs became the publisher of the Times, in 1896, he decided to move it to the former site of the Pabst Hotel, at the intersection of Forty-second Street, Broadway, and Seventh Avenue. The Times’ new terra cotta and pink granite building was the second tallest in Manhattan.

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By 1904, Ochs had convinced Mayor George McClellan to rename the square after the paper. That same year, Ochs planned a New Year’s Eve party, promising fireworks at midnight, to lure New Yorkers away from the city’s traditional gathering, on Wall Street, where people listened to the bells of Trinity Church. It worked. In 1904 people said Ochs was crazy because 42nd street was far away from the center of the city (people used to live in Brooklyn and Downtown Manhattan) and it wasn’t a residential area. But in 1907, when Ochs couldn’t get a permit for the fireworks he installed the first Drop Ball and made of Times Square the chief center of the New Year’s celebration in New York. [more info here].

       The evolution of Times Square Drop Ball       

After four years of New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations, Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle at the building to draw more attention to the newly-renamed Times Square. An electrician was hired to construct a lighted Ball to be lowered from the flagpole on the roof of One Times Square.

1907, first version. The very first drop was on New Year’s Eve 1907, one second after midnight. The Ball, made of iron and wood and adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs, was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds. It was built by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, and for most of the twentieth century the company he founded, sign maker Artkraft Strauss, was responsible for lowering the ball.

1917. The coldest ball drop was in 1917, with a midnight temperature reaching down to 1 °F and wind chill of -18 °F. According to the National Weather Service, the average midnight temperature in New York City between 1907 and 2011 was 33.7 °F. The lucky attendees of 1965 and 1972 experienced the record high: 58 °F. (Visit the link for New Year’s Eve’s climate in new York, from 1907 to 2011)

1920, second version. The original Ball was replaced with a 5-foot, 400-pound made entirely of wrought iron replaced the original.

Times Square, 1931

Times Square, 1931

Times Square, 1937

Times Square, 1937

1942/1943. There have only been two years in which the ball didn’t drop: 1942 and 1943, during the wartime “dimout” of New York City. Crowds still gathered at Times Square and shared a moment of silence followed by chimes.

John Phillips—TIme & LIfe Pictures/Getty Images Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve, as 1941 becomes 1942 New Year’s Eve, 1941-42: Photos From a Vanished New York

John Phillips—TIme & LIfe Pictures/Getty Images
Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve, as 1941 becomes 1942
New Year’s Eve, 1941-42: Photos From a Vanished New York

William C. Shrout//Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

William C. Shrout//Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

1955, third version. In 1955, the iron ball was replaced with an aluminum ball weighing a mere 200 pounds.

New York, 1955

New York, 1955

1981. The aluminum Ball remained unchanged until the 1980s, when red light bulbs and the addition of a green stem converted the Ball into an apple for the “I Love New York” marketing campaign from 1981 until 1988.

Mayor Edward I. Koch with the ball in 1981

Mayor Edward I. Koch with the ball in 1981

1995, fourth version. After seven years, the traditional glowing white Ball with white light bulbs and without the green stem returned to brightly light the sky above Times Square: the Ball was upgraded with aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobes, and computer controls, but the aluminum ball was lowered for the last time in 1998.

1995

1995

2000, fifth version. For the arrival of the new millennium, an entirely new Ball was constructed. Weighing 1,070 pounds and measuring 6 feet in diameter, the ball was covered with 504 Waterford Crystal triangles illuminated with 168 halogen bulbs outside. Internally, 432 bulbs of clear, red, blue, green and yellow colors along with strobe lights and spinning mirrors lit up the night.

Steven Goldmacher of Philips Lighting Co. screws in a light bulb, Dec. 20, 1999.

Steven Goldmacher of Philips Lighting Co. screws in a light bulb, Dec. 20, 1999.

2005. A total of 504 crystal triangles with various designs from past years make up the exterior of the orb.

A  technician installs one of 72 new Waterford Crystal triangles, featuring the "Hope for Fellowship" design, in 2005.

A technician installs one of 72 new Waterford Crystal triangles, featuring the “Hope for Fellowship” design, in 2005.

2007. On December 31, 2006 saw a new Ball rigged with light-emitting diodes. The Ball was a geodesic sphere, six feet in diameter, and weighed approximately 1,070 pounds. It was covered with a total of 504 Waterford crystal triangles that varied in size and ranged in length from 4.75 inches to 5.75 inches per side.

an-abridged-design-history-of-the-ball-and-can-you-name-its-real-shape

2007

2008, sixth version. In honor of the Ball Drop’s 100th anniversary, a new design debuted New Year’s Eve 2008. Manufactured again by Waterford Crystal with a diameter of 6 feet, weighing 1,212 pounds, it used LEDs, computerized lighting pattern, and can produce over 16.7 million colors, but only consumes the electricity of 10 toasters! It was only used once.

2008

2008

2009, seventh version. A new Ball debuted on New Year’s Eve 2009 and it s 12 feet in diameter, weighing 11,875 pounds. While retaining the 2008 design, this Ball was rebuilt double its previous size. To accommodate this new Ball, the flagpole was also enlarged, now rising 475 feet above the street.

2010. In 2010 they saved money and didn’t add any LEDs, but they added new stunning Waterford clink-clink glass panels. Here’s the insider look on how they did it, and why.

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2014, eighth version. The 2014 Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is a 12-foot geodesic sphere, double the size of previous Balls, and weighs 11,875 pounds. It was built to withstand the stresses of high winds, precipitation and temperature fluctuation to brightly shine over 400 feet above Times Square throughout the year. Covered in 2,668 Waterford Crystals and powered by 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs, the new Ball is capable of creating a palette of more than 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns producing a spectacular kaleidoscope effect atop One Times Square.

Here there is a well done VIDEO about Drop Ball History.

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  What if you can’t be in Times Square during New Year’s Eve?  

Well, if you are somewhere else, but you don’t want to miss the show you have three options:

1) Live streaming online. There are several websites, but the best one is livestream.

2) Otherwise, if you are a smartphone addicted you can use an App.  “It’s one moment where 100 million Americans are all doing the same thing at the same time. They’re all counting down to the same time thing,” said Jeff Straus, president of New York City-based Countdown Entertainment, which organizes the annual event. “We created the app because there’s a whole other audience that can’t be near their televisions or are overseas, but still want to be part of it and count down those final seconds with us,” said Straus.

The free app also has a countdown that can be configured to different time zones and is available worldwide.

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iTunes Download link –> https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/times-square-official-new/id408688944?mt=8

ANDROID Download Portal at –> https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.timessquareball.app&hl=en

Here is a link to the official video about Drop Ball App.

3) If you don’t want to spend the night outside being all cold and claustrophobic, you can still assist to the show, but it will cost you! For example a seat in the Direct Ball Drop View section of the Marriott Marquis Broadway Lounge will cost you $3,500; while a table for two in The R Lounge goes for $8,500. The chain’s Times Square restaurant sold tickets for as much as $1,395 per couple to party a few steps from the famous ball drop. And, of course, there’s always Applebee’s, which is offering a buffet, open bar, and live DJ for a whopping $375 a person. On 2014 even Madame Tussauds, a museum not a restaurant, organized a dinner on New Year’s Eve, charging some of the most expensive rates in Ball Drop’s roster: $1,500 per person.

During the rest of the year, instead, you could visit Times Square visitor center and Museum

an-abridged-design-history-of-the-ball-and-can-you-name-its-real-shape

 

In the end, if you can’t be in Times Square, at least your wish can: each year people from around the globe write their wishes for the New Year on pieces of official Times Square New Year’s Eve confetti. Whether it’s a personal goal, a dream for the future or doing something for the very first time, these wishes will be posted on the New Year’s Eve Wishing Wall located in the Times Square Museum & Visitor Center. The wishes are collected at the end of the year, and added to the one ton of confetti that flutters down at midnight onto the crowd gathered in Times Square in celebration of the New Year.

But what if you can’t make it to Times Square? Use the Virtual Wishing Wall! Just submit your wish online. They will print it onto a piece of confetti for you, so that no matter where you are on New Year’s Eve, your wish will be part of the Times Square celebration. [more info here]

 REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

   What happens at the end of celebration?    

When everyone leave Times Square, after kisses and hugs, songs and confetti, there’s only one thing to do: cleaning. Yes, there are some New Yorkers that will begin new year cleaning Times Square for a couple of days. In fact in 2013, for example, sanitation workers swept up party hats, confetti, balloons, and debris for 48 hours, beginning just moments after the 60 seconds the ball usually takes to drop. The project took 151 workers, 24 supervisors, two superintendents, and two deputy chiefs.

New Years Eve NYC