The Evolution of the New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball in NYC From 1907 to Present

The Evolution of the New Year's Eve Times Square Ball in NYC From 1907 to Present_from_above_NYC_Untapped Cities_Stephanie GeierThe 2013 New Year’s Ball from above. Image via Flickr user Anthony Quintano

The large, glittering, colorful ball that drops from a pole atop One Times Square at the end of every year has come a long way since its 1907 debut. The first ball weighed about 700 pounds and had a five-foot diameter. Compare those dimensions to today, when it weighs 11,875 pounds and is 12-feet wide (meaning that it weighs about 17 times more than it did in 1907 and is more than twice as wide). In addition, while today’s ball is made of 2,688 LED Waterford crystals (and stored inside One Times Square), the first ball was made of wood, iron, and one-hundred 25-watt light bulbs.

But how exactly did the ball evolve? In this article, we’ll trace the evolution of the Times Square ball throughout the years, which is many ways, parallels the changes in U.S. industry itself.

Though people celebrated New Year’s Eve in Times Square to welcome the year 1904 (with fireworks and the like to celebrate the new corporate headquarters of The New York Times), the tradition of having a ball drop didn’t start until 1907, when the city banned shooting fireworks off the building. Thus, celebrants resorted to a new form of celebration: a ball drop.

A young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr built the first New Year’s Eve ball, which was made of iron, wood, and one-hundred 25-watt light bulbs. It was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds. A team of six men hoisted the ball on a flagpole on the building’s roof using rope. Once it hit the roof, a five-foot tall sign lighted indicating the new year. For most of the 1900s, Starr’s company, Artkraft Strauss, was in charge of descending the ball.

Long Acre Square-Times Square-Vintage Photo-New YorkTimes Square, 1905

In 1920, the original ball was replaced by a 400-pound one entirely made of wrought iron.

Change came again in 1955, when an aluminum ball weighing just 150 pounds replaced this one. Surprisingly, this ball was used into the 1980s, when the addition of red light bulbs and a green stem turned the ball into an apple as part of the I Love New York marketing campaign that ended in 1988. When the campaign ended, the usual ball with white light bulbs (now stem-less) returned.

New York City Mayor Ed Koch gives the thumbs up sign as he flips a switch to test the Big Apple Ball, Thursday in 1981. Image via Associated Press

The Evolution of the New Year's Eve Times Square Ball in NYC From 1978 to Present_1907 ball_Untapped Cities_NYC_Stephanie GeierThe ball in 1978. Image via New York Times

The Evolution of the New Year's Eve Times Square Ball in NYC From 1907 to Present_1992 ball_electrician_NYC_Untapped Cities_Stephanie GeierAn electrician prepares the ball for 1992. Image via Associated Press

In 1995, the ball was improved with aluminum coverings, rhinestones, and strobes. Another huge change occurred: computer controls for the ball. This ball was in use until 1998.

The Evolution of the New Year's Eve Times Square Ball in NYC From 1907 to Present_1995 ball_NYC_Untapped Cities_Stephanie Geier-001A worker preparing the 1995 New Year’s Eve Ball. Image via Associated Press

A worker screws in a lightbulb in 1999. Image via Getty Images

With the arrival of the new millennium in 2000, the New Year’s Eve ball was entirely redone by Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting. This ball weighed 1,070 pounds and had over 600 halogen bulbs, 96 strobe lights and 504 triangular crystal panels. Though it now used current lighting technology, it also still consisted of traditional materials that serve to remind people of the past as they looked forward to the future. During this time, several of the triangles followed annual hope-related themes, such as Hope for Abundance and Hope for Healing.

The 2000 ball being tested. Image via Reuters

For the ball drop’s centennial anniversary to celebrate 2008, Waterford Crystal came up with a new design for the ball. This time it was an icosahedral geodesic sphere and had a diameter of 6 feet, weighed about 1200 pounds, and most importantly, used multicolored LEDs and computerized lighting patterns.

The Evolution of the New Year's Eve Times Square Ball in NYC From 1907 to Present_2008_NYC_Untapped Cities_Stephanie GeierThe ball celebrating the arrival of 2008. Image via Wikimedia Commons

However, this ball only lasted a year; for 2009 an even larger version was used. It had a diameter of 12 feet (its current diameter) and a weight of 11,875 pounds (its current weight). This was the first year it would be displayed year-round, so Waterford made this version weatherproof. From 2008-2013, the annual theme was “World of Celebration,” including themes like “Let There be Light” and “Let There be Peace.”

The New Year’s Eve Ball in 2013


The New Year’s Eve Ball in 2013

The New Year’s Eve Ball in 2013

For the 2014 new year, all of the ball’s panels were replaced for the “Greatest Gifts” series. The 2014 ball had crystals featuring cuts around a pillar to symbolize the “Gift of Fortitude.” This ball was then upgraded with 288 new crystals for the ball celebrating 2016, which feature starburst designs around a center point to symbolize the year’s theme of the “Gift of Wonder.”

With all the advances in technology, it’ll be interesting to see what the Times Square ball will look like several New Year’s Eves from now.

Next, take a look Behind the Scenes where the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is stored and discover the Top 10 Secrets of Times Square NYC, or the Vintage Photos: The Evolution of Times Square from 1898 to Today. Get in touch with the author @sgeier97.

 New Year’s Eve, One Times Square, vintage photos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *