What Are the Origins of Times Square’s Iconic New Year’s Eve Ball Drop?

Photo Courtesy: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

On the roof of One Times Square, an impressive 141 feet above the swell of tourists and revelers, sits the Times Square Ball. For over 100 years, New York’s ball drop has been one of many symbols of New Year’s Eve worldwide. But, when you really think about it, a ball "drop" — and by "drop" we mean the ball leisurely coasts down a flagpole in 60 seconds — seems like a fairly random way to ring in the new year.

Since 1904, Times Square has been the site of New Year’s Eve celebrations — back when it was just a rooftop party with fireworks. In 1907, Adolph Ochs, then-owner of The New York Times, wanted something to complement the fireworks display he was organizing at the new Times headquarters. Ball "dropping" has signified the passage of time since antiquity: Ancient Greeks, for example, dropped time balls to publicly display the time to citizens. In 1833, the first modern time ball was installed in Greenwich, England, where it fell at 1 p.m. daily.

Moreover, nothing says "status symbol" like a giant sphere. That may sound glib, but it’s true: Built by an immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, the first iron-and-wood New Year’s Eve ball was decorated in a whopping 100 25-watt incandescent light bulbs. On December 31, Artkraft Strauss — Starr’s sign-making company — was also responsible for lowering the 700-pound sphere. Since the ball drop that ushered in 1908, the event has been held every year, except during 1942 and 1943 due to wartime blackouts.