Times Square Ball
|Times Square New Year's Eve ball drop|
|Genre||New Year's Eve event|
|Location(s)||Times Square, New York City|
The Times Square Ball is a time ball located in New York City's Times Square. Located on the roof of One Times Square, the ball is a prominent part of a New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square colloquially known as the ball drop, where the ball descends 141 feet (43 m) in 60 seconds down a specially designed flagpole, beginning at 11:59 p.m. ET, and resting at midnight to signal the start of the new year.
The event was first organized by Adolph Ochs, owner of The New York Times newspaper, as a successor to a series of New Year's Eve fireworks displays he held at the building to promote its status as the new headquarters of the Times, while the ball itself was designed by Artkraft Strauss. First held on December 31, 1907, to welcome 1908, the ball drop has been held annually since, except in 1942 and 1943 in observance of wartime blackouts. The ball's design has also been updated over the years to reflect improvements in lighting technology; the original design was made from wood and iron and lit with 100 incandescent light bulbs, while its current incarnation features a computerized LED lighting system and an outer surface consisting of triangle-shaped crystal panels. As of 2009, the ball is also displayed atop One Times Square year-round.
The Times Square ball drop is one of the best-known New Year's celebrations internationally. It is attended by at least 1 million spectators yearly and enjoys a national television audience across multiple broadcasters. The prevalence of the Times Square ball drop has also inspired similar "drops" at local New Year's Eve events across the United States.
To facilitate the arrival of attendees, Times Square is closed to traffic beginning in the late afternoon on New Year's Eve. The square is divided into different viewing sections referred to as "pens"; as attendees arrive, they are directed into the pens sequentially as they fill. Particularly following the September 11 attacks, security at Times Square on New Year's Eve has been strictly enforced by the New York Police Department (NYPD); attendees are required to pass through security checkpoints before they are assigned a pen, and attendees are prohibited to bring backpacks or alcohol to the event.
Festivities formally begin in the early evening with the raising of the ball at around 6:00 p.m. ET. Party favors are also distributed to attendees, which have historically included large balloons, hats, and other items branded with the event's corporate sponsors. The hours before the drop are preceded by hourly countdowns for the arrival of the new year in other countries, along with live music performances. Since the 2005–06 edition of the event, the drop has also been directly preceded by the playing of John Lennon's song "Imagine". For 2011, the song began to be performed live; first by Taio Cruz, and in 2012 by Cee Lo Green. Cee Lo Green's performance, however, was criticized by fans for his change of a lyric relating to religion. The drop proper begins at 11:59 p.m. ET, the final minute of the year, and is ceremonially "activated" by a dignitary or celebrity joined on-stage by the current Mayor of New York City. The conclusion of the drop is followed by fireworks shot from the roof of One Times Square, along with the playing of "Auld Lang Syne" and Frank Sinatra's "Theme from New York, New York".
Since the 1996 New Year's Eve celebration, the current Mayor of New York City has been joined by a special guest, selected yearly to recognize their community involvement or significance, in ceremonially "activating" the ball drop by pressing a button at exactly one minute to midnight. The button itself does not actually trigger the drop; that is done from a control room, synchronized using a government time signal. Special guests who have activated the ball drop have included:
- 1996–97: Oseola McCarty
- 1997–98: A group of five winners from a school essay contest honoring New York City's centennial
- 1998–99: Chinese gymnast Sang Lan (who was injured during the 1998 Goodwill Games and was being rehabilitated in New York City)
- 1999–2000: Dr. Mary Ann Hopkins from Doctors Without Borders
- 2000–01: Muhammad Ali
- 2001–02: Rudy Giuliani and Judith Nathan; activating the drop was also Giuliani's final act as mayor. Michael Bloomberg officially became the new Mayor of New York City upon the beginning of 2002, and took his oath of office shortly after midnight.
- 2002–03: Christopher and Dana Reeve
- 2003–04: Cyndi Lauper, along with Shoshana Johnson, the first American prisoner of war belonging to an ethnic minority
- 2004–05: Secretary of State Colin Powell
- 2005–06: Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis
- 2006–07: A group of eight United States Armed Forces members
- 2007–08: Karolina Wierzchowska, a valedictorian of the NYPD's academy who also served in the Iraq War
- 2008–09: Bill and Hillary Clinton
- 2009–10: Twelve students from New York City high schools on the U.S. News & World Report's America's Best High Schools Top 100 "Gold Medal" List
- 2010–11: Former Staff sergeant Salvatore Giunta
- 2011–12: Pop musician Lady Gaga
- 2012–13: The Rockettes
- 2013–14: Michael Bloomberg and mayor-elect Bill De Blasio (Note: De Blasio will take Bloomberg's place when the drop ends)
As a public event, the festivities from Times Square are televised as a part of New Year's Eve specials on several major U.S. television networks. By far the most notable of these is Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve; created, produced, and originally hosted by Dick Clark until his death in 2012, and hosted by Ryan Seacrest since New Year's Eve 2005, the program first aired on NBC in 1972 before moving to ABC, where it has been broadcast ever since. In recent years, it has consistently been one of the most-watched New Year's specials, peaking at 22.6 million viewers for its 40th edition in 2012. Following the death of Dick Clark in April 2012, a crystal engraved with his name was added to the 2013 ball in tribute. Other broadcasts from Times Square on the major networks include NBC's New Year's Eve with Carson Daly (hosted by Last Call and The Voice host Carson Daly), Fox's New Year's Eve Live, and Univision's ¡Feliz!.
On cable, CNN carries coverage of the festivities, also known as New Year's Eve Live, which has most recently been hosted by Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. MTV also offers coverage originating from the network's Times Square studios at One Astor Plaza. For 2011, MTV also held its own ball drop at Seaside Heights, New Jersey, the setting of its popular reality series Jersey Shore, featuring cast member Snooki lowered inside a giant "hamster ball". Originally, MTV planned to hold the drop within its studio in Times Square, but the network was asked by city officials to conduct the drop elsewhere.
Beginning in the 1940s, NBC broadcast coverage of the festivities from Times Square anchored by Ben Grauer on both radio and television. Its coverage was later incorporated into special episodes of The Tonight Show, continuing through Johnny Carson's tenure on the program. NBC would eventually introduce a dedicated special, New Year's Eve with Carson Daly, beginning in 2003. From 1956 to 1976, CBS was well known for its television coverage of the festivities hosted by bandleader Guy Lombardo from the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, featuring his band's famous rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight. After Lombardo's death in 1977, CBS and the Royal Canadians, now led by Victor Lombardo, attempted to continue the special. However, Guy's absence and the growing popularity of ABC's New Year’s Rockin’ Eve prompted CBS to eventually drop the band entirely. A new special, Happy New Year, America, was first hosted by Paul Anka and ran in various formats until 1996. For 2000, in lieu of New Year's Rockin' Eve, ABC News broadcast a day-long telecast hosted by Peter Jennings known as ABC 2000 Today featuring millennium festivities from around the world; Jennings was joined by Dick Clark as a special correspondent for coverage from Times Square, representing the Eastern Time Zone.
The first New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square was held on December 31, 1903; The New York Times' owner, Adolph Ochs, decided to celebrate the opening of the newspaper's new headquarters, One Times Square, with a New Year's fireworks show on the roof of the building to welcome 1904. Close to 200,000 people attended the event, displacing traditional celebrations that had normally been held at Trinity Church. However, following several years of fireworks shows, Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle at the building to draw more attention to the area. The newspaper's chief electrician, Walter F. Painer, suggested using a time ball, after seeing one used on the nearby Western Union Building. Ochs hired sign designer Artkraft Strauss to construct an electrically lit ball for the celebration; it was built from iron and wood, lit with one hundred incandescent light bulbs, weighed 700 pounds (320 kg), and measured 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. The ball was hoisted on the building's flagpole with rope by a team of six men. Once it hit the roof of the building, the ball was designed to complete an electric circuit to light a 5-foot tall sign indicating the new year, and trigger a fireworks show. The first ever "ball drop" was held on December 31, 1907, welcoming the year 1908. In 1913, only eight years after it moved to One Times Square, the Times moved its corporate headquarters to 229 West 43rd Street. The Times still maintained ownership of the tower, however, and Strauss continued to organize future editions of the drop.
The second and third balls (1920-98)
The original ball was retired in 1920 in favor of a new design; the second ball remained 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter, but was now constructed from iron, weighing 400 pounds (180 kg). The ball drop was placed on hiatus for New Year's Eve 1942 and 1943 due to wartime lighting restrictions during World War II. Instead, a moment of silence was observed at midnight in Times Square, accompanied by the sound of chimes played from sound trucks. The second ball was retired in favor of a third design in 1955; again, it maintained the same diameter of its predecessors, but was now constructed from aluminium, and weighed 150 pounds (68 kg). In 1981, the third ball was revamped in honor of the I Love New York campaign, with red lightbulbs and a green stem to give it the appearance of an apple. For 1988, organizers acknowledged the addition of a leap second earlier that day (leap seconds are appended at midnight UTC, which is five hours before midnight in New York) by extending the drop to 61 seconds, and by including a special one-second light show during the extra second. The original white lightbulbs returned to the ball 1989, but were replaced by red, white, and blue bulbs in 1991 to salute the troops of Operation Desert Shield.
The third ball was revamped again in 1995 for 1996, adding a computerized lighting system with 180 halogen bulbs and 144 strobe lights, and over 12,000 rhinestones. Lighting designer Barry Arnold stated that the changes were "something [that] had to be done to make this event more spectacular as we approach the millennium." The drop itself also became computerized through the use of an electric winch synced with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's time signal; the new system was not without issues, however, as a glitch caused the ball to pause for a short moment halfway through its descent. After its 44th use in 1999, the third ball was retired and placed on display at the Atlanta headquarters of Jamestown Group, owners of One Times Square.
Into the new millennium (1999-2007)
On December 28, 1998, during a press conference attended by New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, organizers announced that the third ball would be retired for the arrival of the new millennium, and replaced by a new design constructed by Waterford Crystal. The year 2000 celebrations would also introduce more prominent sponsorship to the drop; companies such as Discover Card, Korbel Champagne, and Panasonic were announced as official sponsors of the festivities in Times Square. The city also announced that Ron Silver would lead a committee known as "NYC 2000", to be in charge of organizing events across New York City for the year 2000 celebrations, particularly outside of Times Square. A full day of festivities was held at Times Square to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000, which included concerts and hourly cultural presentations with parades of puppets designed by Michael Curry, representing countries entering the new year at that hour. Organizers expected a total attendance exceeding 2 million spectators.
The fourth ball, measuring 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter and weighing 1,070 pounds (490 kg), incorporated a total of over 600 halogen bulbs, 504 Waterford Crystal triangles, 96 strobe lights, and spinning, pyramid-shaped mirrors. The ball was constructed at Waterford's factory in Ireland, and was then shipped to New York City, where the lighting system and motorized mirrors were installed. Many of the triangles were inscribed with messages of a certain theme changing yearly, such as "Hope for Fellowship", "Hope for Wisdom", "Hope for Unity", "Hope for Courage", "Hope for Healing", and "Hope for Abundance". For 2002, the ball's crystals were engraved with the names of nations and organizations who were affected by the September 11 attacks.
Present day (2008-present)
In honor of the ball drop's centennial anniversary, a brand new fifth design debuted for New Year's Eve 2008. Once again manufactured by Waterford Crystal with a diameter of 6 feet (1.8 m), but weighing 1,212 pounds (550 kg), it used LED lamps provided by Philips (which can produce 16,777,216 or 224 colors), with computerized lighting patterns developed by the New York City-based lighting firm Focus Lighting. The ball featured 9,567 energy-efficient bulbs that consumed the same amount of electricity as only 10 toasters. The 2008 ball was only used once, and was placed on display at Times Square Visitors Center following the event. For 2009, a larger version of the fifth ball was introduced. The updated ball is an icosahedral geodesic sphere lit by 32,256 LED lamps. At 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and with a weight of 11,875 pounds (5,386 kg), it is twice as large as the 2008 ball. It was also designed to be weatherproof, as the ball is now displayed atop One Times Square year-round following the celebrations. The numerical sign indicating the new year (which has also remained atop the tower) also uses Philips LED lamps; for 2014, the "14" digits will use bulbs from the company's "Hue" line, and will cycle through a range of colors.
Weather at midnight
According to the National Weather Service, from 1907 to 2011, the average temperature at midnight in New York City was 33.7 °F (0.9 °C). The coldest event was in 1917 when the temperature was 1 °F (−17 °C), the second coldest was 11 °F (−12 °C) in 1962. The warmest ball drop was 58 °F (14 °C) in both 1965 and 1972. It has snowed during the ball drop just seven times out of 107 events (one being light snow)—1926, 1934, 1948, 1952, 1961, 1967, and 2009—and it has rained multiple times.
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