Facts You Didn't Know About the Times Square Ball Drop

Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Facts You Didn't Know About the Times Square Ball Drop

Facts You Didn't Know About the Times Square Ball Drop

Good times at Times Square
Facts You Didn't Know About the Times Square Ball Drop

Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Times Square has hosted America’s premier New Year’s Eve celebration for over a century. In that time, the Ball Drop, even more than the star-studded performances, midnight kisses, confetti or kitschy top hats, has become a New Year’s Eve icon. This is not something only East Coasters know about. Each year, millions turn to New York to ring in the New Year, be they in the same time zone or on the opposite coast. The history of the Ball Drop is chock full of overcome trials, honored heroes, glowing spheres and more. Here’s all you need to know about America’s favorite countdown.

Times Square NYE began in 1904 without a Ball Drop

Times Square NYE began in 1904 without a Ball Drop

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Times Square, one of the most popular tourist destinations in America, first hosted a New Year’s Eve party in 1904 to celebrate Times Tower, the new headquarters of the New York Times. At the time, Times Tower was the second tallest building in New York City. Roughly 200,000 people attended the event hosted by Times owner Alfred Ochs. As the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 1905, the tower was lit with fireworks. No ball drop in sight.

A firework ban led to the first Times Square Ball Drop in 1907

A firework ban led to the first Times Square Ball Drop in 1907

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A 1907 fireworks ban forced Ochs to rethink his mega-successful New Year’s Eve celebration outside Times Tower. Just a few years removed from the first party, Times Tower had already replaced Trinity Church as the premiere New Year’s Eve location in all New York. To substitute for the banned fireworks display, Ochs ordered a lit 700-pound iron and wooden sphere to be manually lowered from atop the Times Tower flagpole at 11:59 p.m.

Hats have been big since the start

Hats have been big since the start

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On Dec. 31, 1907 — as the first Times Square ball was preparing to drop — waiters at surrounding restaurants and hotels wore top hats with “1908” marked in small lights. When the clock struck midnight and the ball dropped, the waiters are said to have “flipped their lids.” “1908” lit up on their hats and on a parapet atop Times Tower.

Times Square did not invent the time-telling ball drop

Times Square did not invent the time-telling ball drop

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Captain Robert Wauchope of the English Royal Navy first thought to signal time with the drop of a ball from above a high-enough building. His aim: to help other captains rightly set their chronometers. In 1833, Wauchope’s time ball was installed above England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich in London. Although the invention proved to be largely useless to the captains Wauchope intended to help, 150 similar time balls were installed worldwide — including one in New York in 1877.

A Times Square Ball Drop has occurred almost every year since 1907

A Times Square Ball Drop has occurred almost every year since 1907

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1942 and 1943 are the only years since 1907 when a Times Square Ball Drop did not happen. World War 2 ushered in a light “dimout” throughout New York City. Despite the circumstances, a crowd still turned out below Times Tower and rang in the new year with a minute of silence followed by the sound of chimes.

The warmest Times Square New Year’s celebration was in 1965

The warmest Times Square New Year’s celebration was in 1965

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The warmest New Year’s Eve party in New York was on Dec. 31, 1965. It was 58 degrees Fahrenheit when the ball dropped for the 57th time

And the coldest was in 1917

And the coldest was in 1917

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On Dec. 31, 1917, the 11th Times Square Ball Drop was celebrated in single-digit weather. At midnight, it was just 1 degree in New York City.

The Ball Drop takes 60 seconds, starting at 11:59

The Ball Drop takes 60 seconds, starting at 11:59

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The Times Square ball rises at 6 p.m. Then, at exactly 11:59 p.m. the crystal ball begins its 60-second descent. The ball finishes falling at midnight, and the lights of the crystal ball shut off as the numeral representation of the new year lights up below.

In 1987, a one-second light show was added to accommodate a ‘leap second’

In 1987, a one-second light show was added to accommodate a ‘leap second’

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For the team from Artkraft Strauss, the sign corporation responsible for the Ball Drop, the countdown to 1988 presented an astronomical challenge. Astronomers added a “leap second” to the calendar to compensate for the planet’s slowing rotation. Strobe lights were added to the year’s ball and the word  “leap!” was added to the year’s countdown. The production countdown went, “Three! ... Two! ... One! ... Leap! … Zero!” The then-red lights of the ball cut out at “one.” The strobes lit the sky ever so briefly at “leap.” Then at “zero,” the strobes disappeared and made way for the bright 1988. The last “leap second” was added on Dec. 31, 2016. However, the countdown challenge was avoided as New York added the extra second five hours prior to the drop at 6:59:60 p.m.

There have been seven versions of the Times Square ball

There have been seven versions of the Times Square ball

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Ochs’ original 700-pound iron and wood ball was first replaced by a lighter 400-pound version made of wrought iron in 1920. A 150-pound aluminum ball was the next replacement in 1955 and was later updated again in 1995 with rhinestones and computer controls. The new millennium brought with it a new crystal creation, while the 100th anniversary of the initial Ball Drop was celebrated with a switch from light bulbs to modern LED lights in 2007.

From 1981 to 1988, the Ball Drop was an apple drop

From 1981 to 1988, the Ball Drop was an apple drop

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For seven years in the 80s, the lights on the aluminum ball shined red. A green stem completed the ball’s transformation into an apple. The change was made in conjunction with the city’s “I Love New York” campaign.

 

There was a glitch the first year computers got involved

There was a glitch the first year computers got involved

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The first automated Ball Drop rang in 1996 a couple seconds too late. The ball, which was supposed to have gone dim to give way for the glow of a large 1996 sign, was still lit at midnight. The operators had cut off the ball’s descent halfway through, pushing the end of the drop a couple seconds into 1996. For nearly three seconds past midnight, the ball remained lit in the air, time suspended. The discrepancy, though not drastic, marked what has been called the “first mistake of 1996.”

The current ball is 12 feet in diameter and weighs nearly 12,000 pounds

The current ball is 12 feet in diameter and weighs nearly 12,000 pounds

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That’s more than twice the diameter of the original 1907 wood and iron ball and nearly 17 times heavier.

It is covered with a total of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles illuminated by 32,256 LEDs

It is covered with a total of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles illuminated by 32,256 LEDs

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The crystals vary in size, the length ranging from 4 3/4 inches to 5 3/4 inches per side. The crystals are bolted to 672 LED modules which are attached to the ball’s aluminum frame. Each of the 672 LED modules contains 48 LEDs in four colors — 12 red, 12 blue, 12 green and 12 white.

Each year, the ball design changes to accommodate a new theme

Each year, the ball design changes to accommodate a new theme

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The latest cluster of designs began with the lead-up to 2014 and will conclude in 2023. Each year, the triangular Waterford Crystals will display a “gift,” the first being the “Gift of Imagination” and last being the “Gift of Love.” Waterford Crystal will ring in 2020 with the “Gift of Goodwill,” represented by a pattern of three pineapples — traditional symbols of hospitality.

The 2002 design honored 9/11

The 2002 design honored 9/11

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At 6 p.m., as the crystal ball ascended up the flagpole above One Times Square on Dec. 31, 2001, bells tolled around the city. The ball’s 504 crystals were marked with tallies of the presumed lives lost, numbers that were then still estimates. The crystals were engraved with the police and fire precincts, the airlines, foreign nations and flight numbers of the victims. The year’s theme was “Hope for Healing.”

A special guest activates the Ball Drop

A special guest activates the Ball Drop

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In 1996, Oseola McCarty joined then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in pulling a lever, signaling the Ball Drop. A lifelong laundress, McCarty gained national acclaim after donating $150,000 — a large portion of her life savings, to fund financial aid for black students at the University of Mississippi. In the more than 20 years since, other guests of honor have included Muhammad Ali, Lady Gaga, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.

The ball isn’t the only thing that drops. There’s also a ton of confetti

The ball isn’t the only thing that drops. There’s also a ton of confetti

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Since 1992,“Confetti master” Treb Heining and his pack of “dispersal engineers” drop over 1 ton of confetti onto Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Twenty seconds before midnight, from atop eight nearby buildings, the “Confetti Crew” unleashes masses of eco-friendly recycled and biodegradable confetti onto Times Square. Even 30 minutes after the initial drop, the confetti can be seen swirling about.

Your New Year’s wish can be featured on a piece of confetti

Your New Year’s wish can be featured on a piece of confetti

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Opened in early December and closed on Christmas, the NYE Wishing Wall, located on Broadway between 46th and 47th, invites passersby to write their hopes for the new year on a square or circular confetti piece to be added to the ton dropped on New Year’s Eve. If too far from Times Square, people may also submit their wishes online.

How many people show up on NYE is debated

How many people show up on NYE is debated

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Police estimated that the Times Square New Year’s Eve crowd size doubled from 500,000 in 1998 to 1 million in 1999. In 2018, the New York Police Department estimated up to 2 million people would spill into Times Square. However, these large estimates have been disputed by crowd science experts who question whether Times Square could hold that many people.

Clean-up is a beast

Clean-up is a beast

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Post Ball Drop, during the earliest hours of 2019, it took 300 overnight workers using 58 backpack blowers, 58 hand brooms, 52 collection trucks, 30 mechanical brooms,12 rack trucks and five haulsters to clean up 56 tons of debris in Times Square.

Dick Clark first stole the show in 1972

Dick Clark first stole the show in 1972

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Radio and television personality Dick Clark first broadcast his famous New Year’s Rockin’ Eve program in 1972. “It is now 1973, as of now,” he said as the lights on the aluminum ball dimmed and a big bright 1973 sign lit up the New York sky. As an extension of “American Bandstand,” the first New Year’s Rockin’ Eve was hosted by the band Three Dog Night and counted Al Green and Helen Reddy as performers. Clark began as a reporter on the scene at Times Square and was named official host in 1975, a post he held until 2009. Clark made one last appearance in 2011 prior to his death in 2012. That year, his name was engraved on one of the ball’s Waterford Crystals.

Before Clark, there was Guy Lombardo. Thank him for ‘Auld Lang Syne’

Before Clark, there was Guy Lombardo. Thank him for ‘Auld Lang Syne’

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Dick Clark was inspired to create New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in response to Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians’ New Year’s Eve Party — the pinnacle of Dec. 31 entertainment at the time. Throughout the mid-20th century, Lombardo and his big band ruled New Year’s radio airwaves. They later made the switch to TV, allowing audiences an at-home look into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel as guys and gals dined and danced into a new year. Over the years, “Mr. New Year’s Eve,” as Lombardo began to be called, popularized “Auld Lang Syne” as the unofficial song of New Year’s. “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind …” Lombardo would croon over the airways. The song is still popularly played today at holiday parties after the hugs and “Happy New Year’s.”

‘Imagine’ by John Lennon offers a newer musical tradition

‘Imagine’ by John Lennon offers a newer musical tradition

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 “Imagine” played over the Times Square speakers minutes before the Ball Drop in 2005 and has since become a tradition of the Times Square New Year’s schedule. In 2010, Taio Cruz became the first artist to perform the song live before the Ball Drop. Others who have sung the tune over the past decade include the band Train, Rachel Platten and Bebe Rexha.

Times Square has influenced the creation of other fun New Year’s Eve ‘drops’ 

Times Square has influenced the creation of other fun New Year’s Eve ‘drops’ 

Sandi N./Yelp