Celebrating New Year’s Eve

New Years Eve Countdown: Times Square, New York 2006/2007


What would New Year’s Eve be like without the fireworks, the Ball dropping in Times Square, singing Auld Lang Syne and rockin’ out with Dick Clark?

Prior to 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in Herald Square with much less pomp and partying. However, several innovations transformed New York that year: the invention of neon lights, the opening of New York’s first subway line; and the first celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

The New York Times had just completed building the Times Tower on an isolated triangle of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42nd Street – dubbed the “Crossroads of the World” – where commerce and culture collided. The newspaper’s owner, Alfred Ochs, had successfully convinced the city to rename Longacre Square, the district surrounding the paper’s new home, in honor of the his publication. On December 31, 1904, Ochs’ new building was the focus of an unparalleled New Year’s Eve celebration. An all-day festival concluded in a fireworks display ignited from the base of the tower. At midnight the raucous sound of cheering from over 200,000 merry makers was the genesis of a new tradition.

However, two years later, the city banned the fireworks because they were too dangerous. Ochs was not deterred. He arranged to have an illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball to be lowered from the tower flagpole (77 feet, 23 meters) precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907. In 1914, The New York Times outgrew Times Tower and relocated to West 43rd Street. By then, however, New Year’s Eve in Times Square had become part of our tradition.

The use of a “time ball” by Ochs wasn’t arbitrary and dates to 1829, when the first was erected in Portsmouth, England, as a way for sailors to synchronize their marine chronometers and, thereby, determining their marine position. Ochs, simply, converted that daily convention to signal the passage of time to be part of his annual tradition – and it stuck! The Ball drop has become a kind of metaphor for marking our own “positions” – where were we last year; where will we be next year?

In 1942 and 1943, the Ball – as it’s become known – was temporarily eliminated due to the World War II “lights out” in New York. Celebrants who continued to gather in Times Square during those years greeted the New Year with a moment of silence followed by the chimes from Times Tower.

Today’s Time Square New Year’s Eve Ball was designed by Waterford Crystal and has been used since the ringing in of 2000. The Ball is a geodesic sphere, six feet in diameter, weighing 1,070 pounds. Covered with a total of 504 Waterford crystal triangles, ranging from 4.75″ to 5.75″, the outside of the Ball includes 90 computer-controlled rotating pyramid mirrors, able to reflect light across Times Square.

Today, New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a phenomenon, with hundreds of thousands of people continuing to gather at the Time Tower, now known as One Times Square, waiting in the New York winter. Thanks to satellite technology, a global audience, estimated at over one billion people, watches this ceremony each year.