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History and Engineering behind New Year’s Eve Ball

By December 31, 2018No Comments

The last minute of any given year is arguably its most exciting. Starting at 11:59 pm Eastern Time, millions watch the spectacle happening in New York City – the New Year’s Eve Ball descent to welcome in the new year. But, how did this tradition get started and what goes into the production today?

Origin of Time-Balls
Dropping a lighted ball to signal an exact time actually started atop England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833. Since the ball would drop at 1 pm every afternoon, the captains of nearby ships could precisely set their instrumentation. In 1845, the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC was the first in the U.S. to adopt a time-ball.

First New Year’s Eve Ball
The New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square started as early as 1904, replacing the old location of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. However, the ball drop from atop the flagpole on the Times Building didn’t happen for the first time until 1907. The first New Year’s Eve ball was made by an immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr. The ball was made of iron and wood and decorated with 100 25-watt bulbs. It was five feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds. Starr’s company, Artkraft Strauss, was responsible for lowering the first ball as well, as it was for much of the twentieth century.

The Modern New Year’s Eve Ball
The New Year’s Eve Ball has come a long way since the first iteration, and the only times the ball didn’t drop was 1942 and 1943 due to the wartime “dimout” of New York City. Overall, there have been seven versions of the ball to signal in the New Year. The latest version of the ball, that will be dropping tonight, is a 12 foot in diameter, 11,875-pound, ball that descends 141 feet down a specially designed pole. Here are some more fun facts:

  • Dropped by a Thern power winch specially designed for inverted mounting below the platform on which the pole is mounted, precision line speed to lower the ball in sync with the countdown clock, a closed-loop line system and a herringbone grooving on the drum for maximum handling control of the 3⁄4 inch wire rope which connects to the ball.
  • The Ball is covered with a total of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles that vary in size, and range in length from 4 ¾ inches to 5 ¾ inches per side.
  • The 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles are bolted to 672 LED modules which are attached to the aluminum frame of the Ball.
  • The Ball is illuminated by 32,256 LEDs (light emitting diodes). Each LED module contains 48 LEDs — 12 red, 12 blue, 12 green, and 12 white for a total of 8,064 of each color.
  • The Ball is capable of displaying a palette of more than 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns that creates a spectacular kaleidoscope effect atop One Times Square.

Since it has become such an important piece of New York, the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is now a year-round attraction, sparkling above Times Square in full public view.