- Stephanie Keith/ Getty
- The US celebrates New Year’s Eve by watching the Times Square ball drop, but that ball hasn’t always looked the same.
- The tradition started in 1907, and the ball was originally made of iron and wood.
- After six redesigns, today’s ball weighs 11,875 pounds, is made of LED lights, and is adorned with crystals.
The Times Square ball drop has been a tradition for over a century and has always symbolized new beginnings and a fresh start. But the ball itself has changed dramatically over its 111-year history. It once weighed a mere 150 pounds, but now clocks in at an astonishing 11,875 pounds.
Keep reading to learn how the Times Square ball has changed over time while the tradition has stayed alive.
Before dropping a ball in Times Square, people would gather downtown at a church to ring bells.
- New York Public Library
Prior to the 1900s, Americans celebrated the new year by gathering outside Trinity Church near Wall Street in Manhattan. When the clock struck midnight, bells would chime and people celebrated the new year on the steps of the church. The church’s bells would “ring out the old, ring in the new.“
Everything changed when The New York Times Company moved uptown to 46th Street and Broadway. As a way to lure more people uptown, the company started a fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.
The first Times Square ball dropped in 1907 and was made of iron and wood.
- Library of Congress
Times Square was becoming a popular place for New Year’s Eve celebrations. But when fireworks were banned in 1907, publisher Adolph Ochs had to come up with a new plan. He decided to use a maritime tradition of timekeeping, which involves dropping a ball at a certain time to help mariners know their time and location.
Times Square’s first ball – which was made from iron and wood – measured 5 feet in diameter and weighed a whopping 700 pounds. An immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr designed the ball and adorned it with 100 light bulbs. Starr’s company Artkraft Strauss was in charge of lowering the ball at the stroke of midnight with an elaborate pulley system. When it dropped for the first time in 1907, it started a tradition that still happens over 100 years later.
In 1920, the ball was redesigned and made of wrought iron.
- New York Public Library
At the start of the roaring ’20s, a less heavy ball replaced the original iron and wood one. The new ball weighed 400 pounds and was made of wrought iron, according to the Times Square Alliance.
In 1942 and 1943, no ball was dropped in Times Square due to the war.
The ball has dropped every year since 1907 except for 1942 and 1943. At the time, the country was fighting in World War II and New York City participated in a “dim-out” to protect the city from air and naval attacks. On New Year’s Eve, people still gathered in Times Square but instead rang chimes.
In 1955, the ball was recreated and made entirely of aluminum.
The new ball made of aluminum was only 150 pounds – the lightest it has ever weighed.
The aluminum ball was transformed into an apple during the 1980s.
The aluminum ball was affixed with red lightbulbs and a green stem to resemble an apple in 1981. The new ball was part of an “I Love New York” marketing campaign. For seven years until 1988, people celebrated by watching the apple drop from the Times Tower.
When the campaign ended, the ball returned to its white light bulbs along with a few upgrades.
The traditional aluminum white ball returned in 1989. By 1995, the ball was adorned with an aluminum skin, rhinestones, and strobes. Perhaps the most important upgrade was the addition of computer controls that lowered the ball come midnight. The aluminum ball dropped for the last time 1998.
At the turn of the century, the Times Square ball was completely transformed and redesigned using crystals.
To celebrate the new millennium in 2000, the ball was redesigned by Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting. The new ball was decorated with crystals and lighting that lit up the night sky to celebrate the new year.
In 2007, the ball was upgraded with LED lights.
New Year’s Eve 2007 marked 100 years since the first ball dropped, so a new ball was created to celebrate the feat. Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting designed the ball again but this time with LED lights. The light bulbs that were used on all the other versions were retired and replaced with LED lighting that could change colors and dazzle audiences from afar. It was called the Centennial Ball and is still used today.
This year’s ball is expected to be another show-stopper.
- Courtesy of Times Square Alliance
Today’s ball weighs 11,875 pounds and is 12 feet in diameter. It is covered in 2,688 Waterford Crystals, 32,256 LED lights, and displays 16 million vibrant colors.