How a Fireworks Ban Led to the First Times Square Ball Drop

-/AFP via Getty

How a Fireworks Ban Led to the First Times Square Ball Drop

Before the Ball Drop, there were fireworks
How a Fireworks Ban Led to the First Times Square Ball Drop

-/AFP via Getty

In 1801, Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan noted a payment of 8 pounds to the “Persons who rang the Bells on New Year’s Day.” Forty-five years later, the church consecrated a new building, and with it an improved set of bells. By the 1880s, the New Year’s Eve crowds outside the house of worship had grown enormous and more raucous. For the remainder of the century, Trinity stayed the place to be in New York on New Year’s Eve. But that all changed in 1904.

Times Tower, the new headquarters of the New York Times, opened Dec. 31, 1904, at 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42nd Street. The 25-story building was the second tallest in the city at the time. In celebration, Times owner Alfred Ochs set out to host an extravagant New Year’s Eve festival on the streets below. When the clock struck midnight, the sky was set ablaze by fireworks as 200,000 people crowded under the tower to catch a glimpse. At midnight, they allegedly cheered so loudly that shouts were heard 30 miles up the Hudson River. That first year, there was no ball drop in sight.

By 1907, Times Tower — and its surrounding Square — had fully replaced Trinity Church as the epicenter of New York’s biggest New Year’s Eve party. Yet, the firework finale, though a crowd-favorite, concerned city officials so much that they banned it.

In a stroke of genius, Ochs ordered that in place of the midnight fireworks, a lit 700-pound iron and wood sphere be manually lowered, high above the crowd, from atop the Tower flagpole. And, so it was. Artkraft Strauss, a sign company, took up the responsibility for dropping the ball at 11:59 p.m. 

A ball has dropped nearly every year since, spawning a load of other fun midnight drops. Despite the New York Times moving out in 1914, then selling Times Tower in 1961, the corner of 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42nd Street has remained home to America’s most famous New Year’s countdown. There is much more to learn about the annual Times Square Ball Drop. 

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