Time Square has a long tradition of being associated with New Year's Eve Celebrations. That celebration is so significant to Americans that it is even broadcast on live television all over the United States. There are two components to the New Year's Eve celebrations at Times Square, and the first of these began on December 31, 1904 when the inaugural New Year's Eve bash was held to commemorate the official opening of the new headquarters of the New York Times. The second part has to do with the dropping of the ball, and this tradition has grown over the years to the point at which the ball became a spectacular large Waterford crystal ball in 2008.
*Naming of Times Square -
The square that we know of as Times Square was originally called Longacre Square. The name was changed after Alfred Ochs, the German Jewish immigrant and owner of the New York Times lobbied the city to change the name. The name change was said to be in honor of an article that was published in a then recent issue of the New York Times. The article credited August Belmont, the President of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company with the idea of changing that company's name to a more simplified Rapid Transit Commission.
The New York Times tower was stranded in a tiny triangle of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue and Broadway in New York City. At the time, the building was the second tallest building in Manhattan. The building would become the focus of that first New Year's Eve celebration in 1904.
*The first Times Square New Year's Eve celebration -
Ochs spared no expense for the party because he wanted to make sure that it would be known as a party for the ages. As part of that, a street festival went on for the entire day, ending with a spectacular fireworks display in which the fireworks were set off from the base of the Times tower.
At midnight, the crowd of over 200,000 attendees erupted into cheers and it was said that the noise from the crowd's cheers, noisemakers and rattles could be heard as far as 30 miles away in Croton-on-Hudson which was straight north up the Hudson River.
*The city aglow -
The New York Times described the spectacular glow that came from their new building : "From the base to the dome, the giant structure was alight - a torch to usher in the newborn year." That night was so successful that from then on, Times Square replaced Lower Manhattan's Trinity Church which had formerly been "the" place in New York City where people would go to ring in the New Year. Eventually, the giant party in Times Square grabbed the attention of the nation, and ultimately, the attention of the world.
*No more fireworks -
Two years later, in 1906, the city banned the fireworks display, no doubt over concerns about the safety of the people in the crowd and the nearby structures. Ochs refused to allow that to deter him. If there weren't going to be any fireworks at midnight, he would find another way to illuminate his building and the entire square.
*The first New Year's Eve Times Square Ball -
To that end, he had an enormous illuminated 700 pound iron and wood ball made. The ball was about 5 feet in diameter, and it had one 25 watt light bulb to illuminate it. The ball was built by a young immigrant metal worker by the name of Jacob Starr. He was the founder of the sign making company Artkraft Strauss. For the better part of the 20th century, that company was responsible for the lowering of the Times Square ball.
For those first festivities in 1907, waiters in all of the famous "lobster palaces" and the fancy hotel restaurants and dining rooms in the area surrounding Times Square were given battery powered top hats. The hats had the numbers 1908 illuminating the front. Those numbers were created by using tiny light bulbs.
The waiters were prepared for the event so that at the exact stroke of midnight, they all "flipped their lids." The numbers on the front of their hats lit up at the exact time that the numbers lit up the parapet of the Times Tower.
*The NEW Waterford Crystal Times Square Ball -
On November 11, 2008, the New Times Square ball was unveiled at a press conference at Hudson Scenic Studio by the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment, the co-organizers of the event. The new ball is twice the size of any of the previous balls and the 12 foot geodesic sphere weighs 11,875 pounds. The ball is covered with 2,668 Waterford Crystals and it is powered by 32,256 Phillips Luxeon Rebel LED lights.
This giant sphere has the ability to create a color palette of 16 million vibrant different colors and literally billions of patterns. The result is a spectacular kaleidoscope that sits on top of One Times Square. At the press conference when the new ball was unveiled, the organizers also announced that the ball would become a year round public attraction above Times Square - even though it would only be lowered on New Year's Eve.
The new ball for 2009 features an exclusive Waterford Crystal design for the crystal triangles. The new design is called "Let There Be Joy." It was designed by artisans in Ireland. On each of the 1,728 new crystals, there is a design of an angel whose arms are lifted to welcome the new year. The remaining 960 triangles were taken from last year's "Let There Be Light" design of a radiating star-burst.
According to Pete Cheyney, the Director of Corporate Communications for Waterford Crystal, the 2009 ball theme is representative of Waterford's belief that New Year's Eve is a time when people should be filled with happiness and optimism about the coming of the new year, and these happy sentiments should be foremost in people's minds.
*Illuminating the 2009 Ball -
Solid State lighting technology is used for the ball. This new lighting technology produces a significant increase in impact, energy, efficiency and color capabilities. The 2009 ball uses 32,256 Phillips Luxeon LED lights. The number of lights used in this year's ball is more than three times the number of lights that were used in the 2008 ball. Additionally, the 2009 ball is 10 - 20% more energy efficient than last year's ball.
Since 1907, the ball has been lowered every year with only two exceptions: the ball wasn't lowered in 1942 or 1943 because there was a wartime "dimout" of all lights throughout New York City. Even though the ball wasn't dropped during those two years, crowds still gathered at Times Square and greeted the New Year by observing one minute of silence. After the silence, chimes rung out from trucks that were parked at the base of the tower. The gesture was reminiscent of the earlier celebrations that had been held at Trinity Church.
The tradition of the Times Square ball has only expanded over the years as is evident in the spectacular balls that were created by Waterford Crystal. People come from all over the nation to celebrate New Year's Eve in Times Square, and the crowds are much bigger than the 200,000 people who were present for the first celebration. For those who can't travel to New York, this popular New Year's Eve spectacle is broadcast live on television, and it will probably be far more comfortable than braving cold New York winter temperatures.
Times Square Alliance - History of New Year's Eve