Thursday, January 9, 2014

History of Times Square Ball Dropping

By Tiffany Amber Stockton


So, is anyone else still reeling with the realization that 2013 is completely gone now? Time seems to pass more quickly these days, but so many still speak of not having enough time to accomplish what they want to get done. Modern conveniences have "supposedly" made our lives easier, but if you ask me, they've only complicated our worlds more and distracted us from our goals.

But not all modern inventions are bad. Sometimes, they can enhance existing items and make for more enjoyable experiences. Like the celebrations every New Year's Eve in Times Square, New York. As the years have passed from the first celebration held at that spot, modern inventions have only added to the rousing festivities.


The first Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration was in 1904, in honor of the new headquarters for The New York Times. The newspaper wanted a way to announce their arrival into what was formerly known as Longacre Square, and The New York Times owner Adolph Ochs thought New Year’s Eve was the perfect time for a party.

Roughly 200,000 attendees showed up to One Times Square for the all-day street festival, which ended with fireworks set off from the base of the tower. 1904 also brought the city’s first subway line, but that's a topic for another post. :)

The Times Square Ball dropped for the first time in 1907, when fireworks alone just weren’t cutting it anymore. Adolph Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle, so he put the newspaper’s chief electrician Walter Painer and designer Artkraft Strauss on the job. Drawing inspiration from the time-balls traditionally used in the maritime world, they designed a 700-pound ball, measuring five feet in diameter, fashioned out of iron and wood, and covered in 100 25-watt light bulbs.

On New Year’s Eve, the ball was hoisted up the rooftop flagpole by six men, and when it fell to the roof, it triggered the lighting of a neon sign indicating the new year had begun and the start of a fireworks show. The tradition continued like this for another thirteen years until 1920.

Counting the first ball in 1907 and our present one, there have been six different iterations of the Times Square Ball. In 1920, the original ball retired and made way for the new, lighter design: 400 pounds, made entirely of iron, and maintaining that 5-foot diameter.

In 1955, it got even slimmer: 150 pounds of aluminum, controlled by just one push of a button.

In 1996, this ball was updated with the addition of a computerized lighting system consisting of 180 halogen bulbs and 144 strobe lights, plus over 12,000 rhinestones.

For the millennium celebration, the Times Square team brought in Waterford Crystal to help design the fourth ball — then technically a “geodesic sphere.” It measured six feet in diameter, weighed 1,070 pounds, and incorporated over 600 halogen bulbs, 504 crystal triangles, 96 strobe lights, and spinning mirrors.

The ball went "green" in 2008, marking the Times Square Ball Centennial with a fifth design: 6-foot diameter; 1,212 pounds; lit by 9,567 energy-efficient LED lamps with computerized color patterns; and made up of the same Waterford crystal panels. The lights were said to use the same amount of energy as about ten toasters.

The ball we see today is the sixth, made in 2009, and absolutely massive. With a 12-foot diameter; a weight of 11,875 pounds; 32,256 LED lamps; and 2,688 crystal panels, the kaleidoscopic sphere is twice as large as its predecessor. Beginning this year, the panels will be designed based on different themes of gifts — 2014 being “Gift of Imagination” — with new additions made every year.

From 1981 to 1988, the ball was decorated to look like an apple. The “big apple” was outfitted with red bulbs and a green stem as part of the “I Love New York” campaign.

There have only been two years in which the ball didn’t drop: 1942 and 1943, during the wartime “dimout” of New York City. Crowds still gathered at Times Square and shared a moment of silence followed by chimes.

The New York Times moved out of the building right at the end of the first world war, not even ten years after constructing it, leaving it vacant and falling into disrepair. A New Yorker Talk of the Town story in 1961 claimed that it had housed a speakeasy and, during World War II, space for the F.B.I. to practice shooting and trap German spies.

It was briefly marketed as a tourist destination by onetime owner Allied Chemical.The building was wallpapered in advertisements when the Lehman Brothers bought it in 1995, and — empty but for the first three floors, which are occupied by Walgreens, and the upper floors used by One Times Square Production Management Team — it has functioned as a 25-story billboard ever since. It seems to be doing just fine, too. Filings from 2012 show that the billboards brought in over $23 million annually, which is 85% of the building’s total revenue.

The coldest ball drop was in 1917, with a midnight temperature reaching down to 1 °F and wind chill of -18 °F. According to the National Weather Service, the average midnight temperature in New York City between 1907 and 2011 was 33.7 °F. The lucky attendees of 1965 and 1972 experienced the record high: 58 °F.

About one million people stand outside and celebrate. Over a billion watch the broadcast from around the world. One ton (2,200 pounds) of confetti is dropped on the crowd at midnight.One ton (2,200 pounds) of confetti is dropped on the crowd at midnight. Throughout the year, people are invited to write their New Year’s wishes on pieces of confetti, which are then mixed in with the bunch.

You can celebrate at Times Square without being all cold and claustrophobic outside, but it’ll cost you. A lot. Though you can get into most of the New Year’s Eve parties in and around Times Square for anywhere from $75 to $225, a few of the all-inclusive events can run much, much higher. A seat in the Direct Ball Drop View section of the Marriott Marquis Broadway Lounge will cost you $3,500; while a table for two in The R Lounge goes for $8,500. And, of course, there’s always Applebee’s, which is offering a buffet, open bar, and live DJ for a whopping $375 a person.

The Times Square Ball has inspired many varied drops around the country, from the peach drop in Atlanta, to the Hershey Kiss drop in Hershey, to the Snooki drop in Seaside Heights. In 2011, the Jersey Shore star was dropped inside a clear ball in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. MTV’s original plan was to drop the Snooki Ball in Times Square, but the request — “too late and too impractical,” according to Times Square NYE producers — was denied.

When it’s all over, the city is left with almost 50 tons of trash, which takes about two days to clean. In 2013, sanitation workers swept up party hats, confetti, balloons, and debris for 48 hours, beginning just moments after the ball dropped. The project took 151 workers, 24 supervisors, two superintendents, and two deputy chiefs.

* * * * *


Instead of asking a question with a single or multiple choice answer, I'm going to ask you to make a personal choice.

Go back to the article and select one fact you find unique or fascinating. What about that fact makes you want to know more or makes it stand out to you? Leave your answer with your email address (name [at] domainname [dot] com) to be entered in the drawing this month for an autographed copy of your choice of 1 of 3 books from my available titles:

Good luck! I'll draw a winner on January 15th, my father's birthday. :)

Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning authorspeaker, and brand partner with Nerium International, who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and an Aussie/retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold fourteen books so far and is represented by Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary Agency. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I actually did not know that mixed in with the ton of confetti dropped at midnight, people had written their thoughts or resolutions on pieces of it. Very interesting post!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  2. I don't think I had heard about how it was shaped and colored like an apple for those few years. That is cool! (I was too young to watch the ball drop during those years) I just cannot imagine the clean up. I bet you they find wallets, keys and all kinds of things people lost during the partying.
    lattebooks at hotmail dot com

  3. I love this post! It is full of so many interesting facts that I didn't know. The one that stands out to me is that there have only been two years in which the ball didn’t drop, 1942 and 1943, during the wartime “dimout” of New York City. I wasn't aware of that fact and found it most interesting that crowds still gathered at Times Square and shared a moment of silence followed by chimes.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  4. I liked that from 1881-1888 it looked like and apple - I think that is so unique and really brings the tradition home to the New Yorkers...I guess I always forget that until recently did EVERYONE get to enjoy the ball dropping since television wasn't around when it all started..It makes me grateful New York decided to share the fun! =) truckredford(at)Gmail(dot)Com

  5. COMMENT BY CHRIS GRANVILLE: Your story about the ball sounded great
    My most interesting point was one night it was -18 wind chill and people still came out
    God bless you
    Chris Granville
    your comment section messed up on me

  6. I had no idea that the ball didn't drop those two years! Great info on this post thanks. bookwormgal2011(at)yahoo(dot)com

  7. There is so much info here that I really didn't know. Thank you for the post. One thing that stood out to me was about the one ton of confetti that is dropped at midnight contains New year wishes that people can fill out during the year and it is mixed in and dropped along with the other confetti
    thank you

  8. There have only been two years in which the ball didn’t drop: 1942 and 1943, during the wartime “dimout” of New York City.

    What stood out to me is that the people still gathered and rang chimes. Darkness does not win out in the hearts of man.

    Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]net

  9. I'm interested in 1942 and 1943 when the ball did not drop because of the war. My husband was born in 1943, so that makes it interesting to me. Love to win one of the 3 books. Interesting about the NY times square NY Eve. Our sons have been but I've never been much for those crowds and standing in one place for such a long time. sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  10. Your post is filled with so many interesting facts that it makes me want to dig a little deeper into all of them! What really had me curious was how there have been 6 different ball designs and how they evolved from 700 lbs of wood and iron to almost 12,000 lbs of crystal and LED lights! If only we could see a video of the chang/growth process from star to finish. Kind of like the time-lapse videos they take of flowers blooming, vegetation growing, or like the recently popular videos of peoples' weight loss over a long period of time! video

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I find it interesting that the ball introduced in 1920 was used for 35 years. Newer isn't always better, it was great they kept the same design for so long. Very interesting article! Thanks for the giveaway.
    worthy2bpraised at gmail dot com

  15. The fact that I find most interesting is that over one billion people watch the broadcast from around the world. I live in NY and have never actually seen the ball drop in person. I couldnt stand that long and wait! I watch on tv too!
    marypopmom (at) yahoo (dot) com

  16. The first thing that caught my attention was that the ball was started 28 years before I was born and I am now 78 years and soon to be 79. Hard to believe that they had such that long ago. And when they had everything with the lights that could be targets were shut down during WW ll, my oldest brother was serving in that war, along with two brother-in-laws, cousins, and many friends. And, I would never want to be under something at that weight. I'm sure glad that they've never had an accident. I would love to win one of these books. Thanks! Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  17. Wow, my apologies for not returning and responding to comments. It's great to see how many of you found the facts interesting and especially the highlight of the wartime dimout in the city. That, along with the variations of the ball seemed to be the ones standing out the most. The confetti aspect certainly blows my mind, and I wouldn't want to be the one picking up the mess afterward. But imagine the stories some of the stuff left behind could tell. :)

    I think it would be fascinating to explore this event in a story. Maybe have the hero and heroine meet here, or like An Affair to Remember have them arrange to meet but something happens and they don't connect. No cell phones, internet, email, or TV to track down someone. Could be a unique twist.

    Anyway, congratulations Maxie for winning her choice of one of the 3 books in my latest series. Your name will be listed on the right sidebar of the blog as soon as you let me know the book you would like.

    Back again in 2 days with some fun little "this day in history" factoids.