The INSIDER Summary:
• Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a tradition dating back to 1904.
• Each year, it draws a massive crowd to the heart of New York City.
• Here’s a look at what’s changed about the yearly celebration — and what hasn’t.
On January 1, 1905, the New York Times ran a front page story about a “big new year fete” that had taken place the night before in Times Square. More than 200,000 people had flooded the square to herald the coming new year, and when the clock struck midnight, a fireworks show lit up the sky. It’s said that the roar of the revelers and their noisemakers could be heard 30 miles away.
It was the very first New Year’s Eve celebration in New York City’s Times Square — a tradition that continues to draw enormous crowds more than 100 years later.
According to the Times Square Alliance, that inaugural party was the brainchild of August Ochs, then-owner of the New York Times. Ochs wanted to throw a party to commemorate the opening of the paper’s new headquarters — the Times Tower — so he organised a street festival that ran into the night and culminated with the aforementioned fireworks.
In fact, those fireworks were launched directly from the base of the Times Tower — a practice that was unsurprisingly banned two years later.
But every year, the party kept happening, even when the New York Times outgrew the tower and relocated elsewhere in the city. And from the looks of old photos, the crowds were at least as big as they are today.
The revelers looked just as spirited, too — though modern New Year’s partygoers have the added advantage of light-up glasses like the ones pictured at right.
Even the New Year’s ball drop dates back more than 100 years, according to the Times Square Alliance, which now organizes and plans for the December 31st festivities. The original ball debuted in 1907, measured 5 feet in diameter, and weighed 700 pounds — likely because it was made of wood and iron. It’s been lowered every year since then except for 1942 and 1943, when the city held a wartime “dimout” of its bright lights.
Over the past 110 years, there have been several versions of the ball, including the apple-shaped one pictured below, used from 1981 to 1988. Today’s ball, pictured on the right, is illuminated by 32,256 LED lights and weighs six tons. (Believe it or not, ” time balls” were a thing long before they became part of New Year’s — they’re actually a 19th century maritime tradition.)
Today, New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a highly orchestrated event that brings crowds up to a million strong. It features performances by music superstars and it’s televised across the world. You can even watch the ball drop on a dedicated smartphone app. Revelers come to stake out their spots hours in advance, and when the ball finally drops, more than a ton of confetti rains down over the square.
The celebration has certainly grown more elaborate, and Times Square has gotten a whole lot brighter thanks to a preponderance of high-tech billboards. But a lot of the city’s New Year’s traditions — the ball, the noise, and those unbelievable crowds — haven’t changed much at all.
Read more about the history of New Year’s Eve in Times Square over at the Times Square Alliance.
NOW WATCH: Watch Times Square test its New Year’s confetti in the rain to make sure it can withstand any weather condition
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