The History of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop


New York City is a wonderful place to visit during winter holidays. The magic of the holidays comes to a head at the “Crossroads of the World” on New Year’s Eve for the world’s biggest party as thousands gather in Times Square to watch the famous ball drop and ring in a new year.

This tradition goes back over a century and was started by an immigrant tycoon in 1904. He wanted to not only celebrate his achievements but also New York.

New York’s first New Year’s Eve celebration didn’t have a massive sphere of lights that lit up from a column. This was to announce the start of the new year at midnight. It was a street party.

German Jewish immigrant Adolph Ochs had just successfully lobbied to have Longacre Square renamed Times Square after the newspaper he owned, The New York Times, moved to the area on 42nd and Broadway. They had moved into a state-of-the-art building and Manhattan’s second tallest skyscraper.

Ochs had plenty to celebrate, but so did New York City. New York City had just launched the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (or the Rapid Transit Commission) first underground system. Times Square’s official website.

Ochs thought a party for all would be a great way to celebrate New York City’s changing landscape. He reportedly spared no expense for the party, which started during the day and featured a street festival and a massive fireworks display at midnight, according to Times Square’s official website.

The New York Times describes the event as a dramatic spectacle. “From base to dome the giant structure was alight – a torch to usher in the newborn year.”

The new year—1905—was brought in with a bang as 20,000 people from all over the tri-state area packed the newly minted Times Square. Word of mouth from those who attended went on to make Times Square the “it” place to kiss the previous year goodbye and welcome the incoming one.

However, the city was not amused. Due to the amount of fireworks that Ochs brought in, the city banned the twilight illuminations in the air. But Ochs wasn’t fazed, as he thought of something bigger and better: the Times Square Ball.

The first New Year’s Eve Ball was built by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, and for most of the twentieth century the sign company he founded, Artkraft Strauss, was responsible for lowering the Ball, according to the official Times Square Ball’s website.

The five-foot-diameter ball was made of iron and wood and weighed about 700 pounds and featured 100 25-watt light bulbs.

“It was planned to have the new electricity from the nearby neighborhood illuminate the area.” Tama Starr, Jacob’s Starr’s granddaughter, who for many years served as foreperson at the Times Square ball drop, told CNN. “And it was manually lowered, beginning at one minute past midnight. This was how it was done for many decades.

“It was an adaptation of an old, useful thing,”She continued. “It was instantly popular. People just loved it.”

After the ball was dropped on the base’s light-up sign, it read: “1908,”Officially, a new way of celebrating the new year was established.

The ball dropped without incident every year except 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was suspended due to World War II’s “dim-out” of lights in New York City, the official Times Square Ball’s website said. In those two years, Times Square was still packed with people who welcomed the New Year with a minute silence and the ringing sound trucks at the base the tower.

The ball remained unchanged from 1907 to 1920.

1920 saw the introduction of a 400-pound sphere completely made from wrought iron.

Threety-five year later, in 1955 the wrought iron ball had been replaced by an aluminum sphere weighing just 150 pounds.

It was still in use until 1980 when the city needed tourism, commerce, and interest after it suffered from massive crime, debt, and a slump. So the ball was adorned with a green stem and featured red lights to look like an apple for the Big Apple’s “I Love New York”Marketing campaign. The advertising campaign that saw an apple fall from the sky to announce a new year ran from 1981 to 1988.

A regular white ball was brought back by the end of the decade.

In 1995, the Time Square Ball was upgraded with aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobes and computer controls, but the aluminum Ball was lowered for the last time in 1998. A new Ball was required for the new millennium after the close of the 20th century.

A redesigned sphere was created by Philips Lighting and Waterford Crystal for the ball dropping to usher the 21st Century.

While security and crowd control was always a concern for safety, following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the NYPD stepped up patrol to ensure that Times Square on New Year’s Eve would be one of the safest places in the world.

“I never think about it, [the] NYPD is so good. They’re the best in the world and I think they have it covered as they do every year,”  Ryan Seacrest told Inside Edition in 2018 about security in Times Square during New Year’s Eve.

“I feel safest in Times Square on New Year’s Eve than anywhere else,” Seacrest’s co-host that year, Jenny McCarthy, said.

Seven years later, for the Ball dropping’s centennial, an LED sphere was brought in by Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting and has been used ever since. As the ball drops to usher in the new year, it changes color.

“Nothing stops us and nothing stops the millions of people who come out to watch this in person as well,” Ryan Seacrest told Inside Edition in 2018.

He explained how he was blown away by how many people turn out to celebrate the big occasion every year when he comes to host the ball dropping.

“These are people who, in their real lives, have no lack of commitment because they commit for 12 hours to be in the same spot,” he said.

While the Times Square Ball has become synonymous with New Year’s Eve, each year it drops it creates a special magic that only the City that Never Sleeps can project. The ball has been a symbol of a better future for the past 115 years.

“When you’re concentrating really hard, time seems to slow down,”CNN’s Tama Starr spoke out about the ball’s dropping. “It felt like the longest minute in the world. It felt like you had time to wash your hair, call your mother, change your life. You really can change your life in one minute—you can decide to be different. You can decide to be kinder and better.”

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