The history of the NYC Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop

The history of the NYC Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop

On Dec. 31, or New Year’s Eve, thousands of people will gather in New York City’s Times Square for the annual ritual of watching the spectacularly lit ball drop to ring in the new year. Millions more will tune in from home to witness the chaotic revelry of the Times Square celebration, a tradition that started as early as 1904, according to the Time Square Alliance. The time ball was introduced to the party in 1907 and has been lowered yearly, except for 1942 and 1943, due to wartime blackouts. 2020 was the first time since its inception that people were barred from witnessing the ball drop in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the event returned to normal the following year.¬†

Here’s a brief timeline of the evolution of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball drop.



An early illustration of Times Square

The first New Year’s Eve Ball was commissioned by Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, per the Times Square Alliance. Ochs began throwing New Year’s Eve parties in 1905 to celebrate the Times‘ new headquarters in the eponymous square in Manhattan, including dazzling fireworks displays from atop the One Times Square building. When he could not secure a fireworks permit for his 1907 celebration, he commissioned signmaker and metalworker Jacob Starr to create a visual display. Starr created a time ball inspired by the 19th-century nautical devices used to help sailors coordinate their time while at sea. The ball was made of wood and iron and covered with a hundred 25-watt light bulbs. It weighed 700 pounds and was five feet in diameter. For most of the 20th century, Starr’s sign company Artkraft Strauss was responsible for lowering the Ball.¬†

His granddaughter, Tama Starr, who served as foreperson of the Times Square ball drop for many years, told CNN, “The idea was to … have it illuminated with the brand-new electricity that had just come up to the neighborhood. And it was lowered by hand … starting at one minute to midnight, and that was the way it was done for many years.”



New Year's Eve celebrants in front of the Astor Hotel in Times Square for the annual New Year's Eve celebration in 1939

In 1920,¬†Artkraft Strauss designed a new ball for the traditional drop. The design weighed only 400 pounds and was made entirely of wrought iron. It lacked some of the dazzling lighting that we’ve come to associate with the celebratory ball. The second iteration of the Times Square ball would be used for the next 35 years of New Year’s Eve celebrations.



 350,000 revelers gather to welcome the new year in New York's Times Square, Jan. 1, 1958

Artkraft Strauss redesigned the ball again in 1955. The wrought iron ball was replaced with an aluminum ball that kept the same dimensions as its predecessors, though it weighed only 150 pounds. The aluminum ball was used throughout the rest of the 20th century, remaining largely unchanged until the 1980s.

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