Why do we drop a ball on New Year’s Eve at midnight?
The tradition began because American’s wanted a way to light up the city of New York without the threat of fireworks endangering the city goers below. The Ball Countdown and Dropping at midnight is most famously known to take place at Times Square in New York City.
The Ball Dropping was adapted from early times when Captains used time balls to adjust their chronometers/timepieces while out at sea so they could keep track of time more accurately. They would spot the harbors with their telescopes and watch for a time ball to drop, specifically one o’clock every afternoon. England’s Royal Observatory was the first harbor to install a time ball in 1829 followed by The US Naval Observatory in Washington, DC in 1845, along with many other towns and cities that adopted the origination.
It wasn’t until 1907 when fireworks were formally banned for New Year’s celebrations in New York City. The New York Times owner and chief electrician, Adolph Ochs and Walter Palmer, teamed up to find a new and safe way to light up the New York skyline and the first New Year’s Eve ball was officially born.
The ball weighed 700 pounds and was 5 feet in diameter, made of wood and iron with 100 25-watt light bulbs decorated around it. At Midnight on December 31st 1907 the first ball made its decent down a pole with pulleys, signaling the New Year. The original pole was actually the main mast from the battleship USS New Mexico, making the adaptation even more significant to the origins of the time balls.
The Ball has descended every year since 1907, with exception to the years of 1942 and 1943 when it was suspended during wartime. Even though the Ball Drop did not occur those two years, people still gathered in Times Square to celebrate. Instead of the ball dropping, the New Year was signaled by a minute of silence and chimes ringing from sound trucks parked at the New York Times Building, hence “Ringing in the New Year”
Technological advances have changed the ball immensely since its origin in 1907. In 1920 the ball was redesigned and completely made of wrought iron to make it lighter in weight. In 1955 the iron ball was replaced by an aluminum one allowing an extremely lighter weight of 150 pounds. In the 1980s a lit green stem was added to the ball, made to look like an apple, to signify the “I Love New York” promotion and that lasted seven years. In the 1990s the ball was made over with rhinestones, strobes, and controlled with computer technology, making its last decent in 1998. In 2000 the ball was entirely redesigned by Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting to create a special celebration for the new Millennium.
Since then, the latest technologies in lights and materials have been updated consistently so the ball continues to signal the New Year and dazzle people all over the world.