2015: Having A Ball!

“In cities around the world, the first seconds of the new year are marked by fireworks. But dropping a ball on New Year’s Eve is a wholly American tradition to count down the last fleeting moments. The first ball dropped at midnight on New Year’s Eve remains the most famous: the one on top of One Times Square in New York City.” E. Rolfes, PBS

Times Square balls from 1907, 2007,  2009, and 2012.

Times Square balls from 1907, 2007, 2009, and 2012.

Excerpt: Having a ball: The history behind American New Year’s Eve celebrations By Ellen Rolfes, PBS

With the creation of standard time, time balls were invented so that sailors could adjust their chronometers, or timepieces, while at sea. With a telescope, they would scope the harbor and watch for a time ball to drop at a specific time, usually noon or 1 p.m. The first time ball was installed in 1829 in Portsmouth, England. The U.S. Naval Observatory followed suit and began dropping a time ball in 1845 in Washington’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

Times Square New Year's Eve ball preparations for 2015.

Times Square New Year’s Eve ball preparations for 2015.

Soon many port towns and cities adopted the practice. It was one of these time balls that became the inspiration for Walter Palmer, The New York Times’ chief electrician, who reimagined the maritime timekeeping ritual as a unique finale to the city’s end-of-the-year party. In 1904, New York City’s New Year’s Eve celebrations moved up to the New York Times building at 46th St and Broadway. Crowds had previously gathered at Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan, near Wall Street, to hear the bells ring at midnight. In lieu of chimes, The New York Times company produced a midnight fireworks spectacle to lure more New Yorkers north. That proved effective but also disastrous when hot ashes, the remnants of the fireworks, rained down onto the streets.

The ball was redesigned as new technology and materials became available, Jeffrey Straus noted. As president of Countdown Entertainment and executive producer for New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square, Straus organizes television and Web broadcasts of the Times Square. Over the decades, aluminum has replaced iron and halogen lamps and then light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, replaced incandescent bulbs. Some balls have had rhinestones, strobe lights or rotating pyramid mirrors. Computer controls were added in 1995.

What distinguishes the current ball from earlier predecessors is the multitude of lights and crystals. At 11,875 pounds and 12 feet in diameter, the Big Ball has 2,688 Waterford Crystals that refracts the light of 32,256 Philips LEDs.”