The History of the New Year's Eve Ball Drop

Dec 29, 2017

The Crystal Ball drops every year in Times Square
Credit Scott Pringle for WBGO News

Many eyes will be on Times Square as officials drop the ball to bring in the New Year.

The very first Times Square celebration to bring in the new year was back in 1904.

“When they came here to Times Square the first couple years, they did fireworks. The hot ashes would reign down on revelers below, burning their heads, not a great way to start the new year.” So, Jeff Strauss with Countdown Entertainment says in 1907 the New York Times asked its chief electrician, Walter Palmer to come up with a new idea.

“He was inspired by a maritime tradition that they still do to this day in ports around the world. They drop a time ball at noon so that navigators out at sea can adjust their time pieces to local time. He combined that tradition with the new technology, the electric light bulb, to create a lighted time ball that would drop at midnight.”

Strauss says up until the mid 1990’s the ball was lowered by hand.

“Six guys, four guys on ropes, one gentleman had a stop watch and a supervisor and they would do it all by hand and they would get it right every year. My first year, we decided to go computer controls, electronic winch, tied into the atomic clock in Colorado and unfortunately the ball was about three seconds late…first screw up of 1996. Since then, I gotta say, we’ve been doing it really well.”

There have been several version of the ball over the years. The first one was made of iron and wood, and was covered with 125 watt light bulbs. There were three other balls used up until 1999 when the crystal ball was created. It’s still used today. More than 26-hundred Waterford Crystal triangles are bolted to LED modules which are then attached the frame of the ball. Every year some of the triangles are swapped out for different color themes. Electrician Bob Stults has that all important job.

“It’s a lot of hours, lot of manpower, tedious, cold, finger tip hurting work.”

Crystal Triangle Craftsman Tom Brennan
Credit Scott Pringle for WBGO News

Artisan Tom Brennan says the crystal triangles are handcrafted with the help from people around the world. “The planning is 364 days a year. All year around, it’s a team of engineers, a team of craftsmen, a team of marketers, not just in Ireland, but here in the U.S. and in Australia, across Europe.”

There are 32-thousand plus LED lights on the ball.

“Generating over seven point five billion light combinations that will be and can be seen from space.”

Tim Tomkins with the Times Square Alliance says the confetti came in the 90’s, three thousand pounds of it tossed on revelers below as the ball drops.

“About 100 people that are at the tops of buildings all around Times Square that throw it out by hand at midnight. They actually start throwing it about 45 seconds before midnight because they are so far up, that it takes a while for it to fall down.”

And on that confetti are thousands of wishes.

“It’s about this moment when we say, there’s a new year, there’s a new beginning and I want something new and better either for myself or for the world.”

An estimated one billion people worldwide watch the ball on TV as it takes 60 seconds to make its way down the pole to bring in the new year.

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