Engineering the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball

The first Times Square New Year's Eve ball is photographed as it appears in 1907. (Courtesy/Time Magazine)
New York City Mayor Ed Koch gives the thumbs up sign as he flips a switch to test the Big Apple Ball, Thursday, Dec. 24, 1981 in New York. (AP Photo/Lederhandler)

Every December 31, millions of people around the world gather to observe the passing of the year and to celebrate the beginning of the next. Amid the various festivities across the globe, one of the most iconic displays is the Times Square Ball drop in New York City.

This particular celebration culminates with a countdown and a ceremonious lowering of a lighted sphere, elegantly descending from its suspended position above large crowds gathered below. Although it sounds rather simple, the tradition of dropping the ball has gone through great changes over the years.

The first New Year’s Eve ball was created in 1907. It was made of iron and wood, contained 100 25W light bulbs, and weighed 700 pounds. That first ball drop was organized by Alfred Ochs, then-owner of the New York Times, and it took place on the roof of the newspaper’s headquarters at One Times Square.

Over the years, the design was refined. The second ball, which was introduced in 1920, was constructed of iron and weighed only 400 pounds. The third iteration, constructed in 1955, was made of aluminum and weighed 150 pounds.

In 1981, the ball took the form of an apple, complete with a stem – perfect symbolism for the city otherwise known as the Big Apple.

Throughout the years, the ball has continued its evolution. By 2008, the ball featured energy-efficient bulbs.

Today, the ball is covered in 32,256 LED lights and 2,688 Waterford Crystal panels, capable of displaying more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns. It measures at over 12 feet in diameter, weighs 12,000 pounds, and is lowered by a mechanical winch.

If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve night at home, why not turn on your TV and watch the ball drop from the comfort of your couch? You’ll probably be one of the few people who know a little of the history behind the tradition and the evolution of the ball over the years.

No matter how you choose to celebrate, stay safe.

Happy New Year!