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Evolution of Times Square New Year's Eve Ball

Evolution of Times Square New Year's Eve Ball

At 11:59 p.m. on December 31st, the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball will begin its descent as millions of viewers gather to celebrate the start of the New Year. Since its first drop in 1907, watching this gigantic glowing orb fall 141 feet during the countdown to midnight has become a worldwide tradition. However, while you may have noticed some changes in its appearance over the years, you probably aren't aware of the history behind this ritual and how we went from a small iron ball to the tech-savvy LED ball we’ll be dropping at the start of 2015. So far, seven versions of the Ball have been created, each incorporating the latest and greatest technology of its time. In this way, the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is not only a proud symbol of the emerging New Year, but also a celebration of advancements in lighting. Let’s recount how far we’ve come.

Origins of the NYE Time Ball

The first New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square was held in 1903, when Adolph Ochs, then owner of The New York Times, decided to celebrate the newspaper’s new headquarters at One Times Square to start off the New Year. Up until 1907, these celebrations concluded in a fantastic fireworks show; but for the welcoming 1908 celebration, Ochs wanted an even bigger spectacle to draw more attention to the area. The newspaper’s chief electrician pitched the idea of using a time ball, which had recently become an obsolete time signaling device for navigators on ships. Deciding he liked the idea, Ochs hired sign design company Artkraft Strauss to construct a light-up time ball for the event, which led to the first ball’s creation and subsequent drop at the end of 1907.

7. 1907-1920

The first New Year’s Eve Ball was constructed of iron and wood and fashioned with a hundred 25-watt incandescent light bulbs. It was a mere 5 feet in diameter and weighed about 700 pounds. The ball was hoisted on the building’s flagpole with rope by a team of six men and dropped once it hit the roof of the building. It was then designed to complete an electric circuit to light a 5-foot tall sign, indicating the New Year and triggering a fireworks show.

6. 1920-1954

  • Constructed of iron
  • Fashioned with one hundred 25-watt incandescent light bulbs
  • 5 feet in diameter
  • 400 pounds

In 1920, the original ball was retired in favor of a new design. The second ball remained 5 feet in diameter, but was now constructed completely from iron and weighed less than before at 400 pounds. This ball remained in use until 1955, with the exception of NYE 1942 and 1943 due to wartime lighting restrictions during World War II.

5. 1955-1994

Mayor Edward Koch
Mayor Edward Koch
  • Constructed of aluminum
  • Fashioned with one hundred 25-watt incandescent light bulbs
  • 5 feet in diameter
  • 150 pounds

The third version of the ball opted for aluminum instead of iron in its design, bringing the weight down to a light 150 pounds. It was in this version of the ball that colored light bulbs were first used in 1981 in honor of the I Love New York campaign, with red for the apple and green for the stem. Original white light bulbs returned in 1989, but were replaced with red, white and blue bulbs in 1991 to salute the troops of Operation Desert Shield.

4. 1995-1998

  • Constructed of aluminum and over 12,000 rhinestones
  • Fashioned with a computerized lighting system of 180 halogen light bulbs and 144 strobe lights
  • 5 feet in diameter

The fourth version of the ball got a little fancier than its predecessors, embellished with over 12,000 rhinestones and using a computerized lighting system and halogen light bulbs for the first time. The drop itself even became computerized through the use of an electric winch synced with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's time signal.

3. 1999-2006

  • Fashioned with 600 halogen light bulbs, 504 triangle-shaped Waterford Crystal panels, 96 strobe lights, and spinning pyramid-shaped mirrors
  • 6 feet in diameter
  • 1,070 pounds

In honor of the new millennium, the fourth ball was retired to introduce a new and improved fifth version of the ball. Measuring 6 feet in diameter and weighing 1,070 pounds, the fifth ball was fashioned with a computerized halogen lighting system, Waterford Crystal panels, strobe lights, and motorized mirrors. The triangles also began to be inscribed with themed designs which have changed yearly. For 2002, the ball's crystals were engraved with nations and organizations affected by the September 11 attacks.

2. 2007-2008

  • Fashioned with 9,576 multicolor LED light bulbs operated by computerized lighting systems
  • 6 feet in diameter
  • 1,212 pounds

To mark the ball drop's 100-year anniversary, a new sixth design debuted for New Year's Eve 2008. Although over 9,500 light bulbs were used, this version of the ball had an energy consumption rate roughly equivalent to 10 toasters because of its advanced LED technology. The 2008 ball was only used once and was placed on display at the Times Square Visitors Center following the event.

1. 2009-Present

  • An icosahedral geodesic sphere with an aluminum frame
  • Fashioned with 32,256 LEDs with 2,688 Waterford Crystal panels bolted to 672 LED modules
  • 12 feet in diameter
  • 11,875 pounds

Twice as large as the 2008 ball, the seventh (and current) ball was designed with a more elaborate lighting system of LEDs and triangle-shaped Waterford Crystals. The most notable feature of this edition of the Ball is that is capable of creating a palette of more than 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns. Yearly themes for the Ball's crystal panels have continued, with designs such as "Let There Be Light" and "Let There Be Peace." This year’s 2015 ball features two themes: 288 of the Waterford triangles introduce the new “Gift of Fortitude” pattern, while the remaining triangles feature 2014’s “Gift of Imagination” design.

The New Year’s Eve Time Ball has showcased over 100 years of innovations in lighting technology, from a hundred 25-watt incandescent light bulbs on a small iron frame to a gigantic, multi-color computerized LED sphere. With each new change, the NYE Ball has truly been a reflection of our times, and it continues to be one of the world’s most spectacular displays of public time-keeping. So what do you think? Left with any comments or reflections yourself? Feel free to drop us a line below in the comments or on FacebookTwitterGoogle PlusLinkedInPinterest, or Instagram!

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