- Since 1907, the ball has been dropping in Times Square to ring in the new year.
- The annual celebration brings together people from around the world, huddling under the cold New York City air as they watch the ball ascend from the roof of One Times Square.
Every year, over a million people pack into New York City’s Times Square to revel in the new year.
2020 marks the 113th anniversary of the ball drop – the tradition of watching a glowing sphere that slides down a pole until midnight.
Let’s take a look at how the celebration has evolved over the past century.
New Year’s celebrations in Times Square began in 1904. The first celebration had about 200,000 attendees.
In the early years, crowds gathered in Times Square to celebrate the new year, but it wasn’t until 1907 that the ball officially started making its slow drop from One Times Square.
New York had its first ball drop in 1907 after the city banned fireworks. The 700-pound ball had 100 bulbs, was made of iron and wood, and appeared every year until 1920.
Source: The New Yorker
Over the next few decades, the number of spectators swelled. This was the crowd on December 31, 1941.
When the US entered World War II, the fire department started ramping up security. Because of wartime blackouts, 1942 and 1943 were the only two years without ball drops.
Nevertheless, an estimated half-million turned out to Times Square in 1942. At midnight, there was a moment of silence and then a ringing of church bells.
As televisions became more mainstream in the 1960s, people began tuning in to watch the city’s celebration. In 1963, some 3,000 people danced in Grand Central Terminal and watched the Times Square spectacle — just a few blocks away — on a giant TV.
In 1955, a new ball made partially of aluminium was introduced. The city used it until 1998 — though it was renovated several times over that period.
In 1978, the ball was revamped to feature halogen lamps, which shone brighter than the previous incandescent bulbs.
Source: The New York Times
In honour of the “I Love New York” campaign, the 1981 New Year’s ball included red lights and a green “stem” to make it look like an apple.
That was also the final year Russ Brown, the superintendent of One Times Square, managed the ball dropping after 16 years.
In 1982, four bombs exploded at government buildings in New York on New Year’s Eve. The next year, the city bought a series of $US20,000 robots that could handle bombs, wield shotguns, and drag fallen officers out of danger. They monitored 1983’s celebration.
In 1988, the ball organisers added a one-second light show at midnight. It took 60 seconds to drop.
Source: The New York Times
In the 1990s, special guests started activating the ball. The first was the philanthropist Oseola McCarty, later followed by Muhammad Ali, Mary Ann Hopkins from Doctors Without Borders, and others.
Source: The City of New York
In 1995, the ball was upgraded with rhinestones, strobes, and computer controls.
Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the police department tightened security in Times Square even more. Bomb-sniffing dogs and 7,000 officers with handheld metal detectors were on duty.
About 500,000 people watched the ball drop that marked the beginning of 2002.
Over time, the ball became more intricate in design and larger in size. In the 2003 photo below, workers tested the 1,070-pound crystal ball that hovered 400 feet above Times Square.
The 2009 ball was outfitted with 32,256 LEDs — more energy-efficient bulbs.
In 2008, New York barred cars from Times Square. Pedicabs began driving the ball’s numeral fixtures instead.
After Times Square became a car-free space, even more people were able to crowd into the streets beneath the New Year’s ball.
The nearly 12,000-pound crystal contraption now includes more than 32,000 lights that emit billions of kaleidoscopic colour patterns.
Rainbow confetti drops at midnight along with the ball.
After midnight on New Year’s, the Department of Sanitation performs massive cleanups to clear the confetti and other debris. In 2014, 190 workers cleared over 50 tons of trash from Times Square.
About two million people are expected to fill Times Square to ring in 2020.
- Read more:
- 20 facts about New Year’s celebrations that might surprise you
- 20 photos that show how brutal the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge actually is
- 18 reasons why New Year’s Eve is the worst holiday of the year
- Here’s how the Times Square ball – which used to be made of iron and wood – has evolved over its 111-year history
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