Times Square Ball
|Times Square Ball Drop|
|Genre||New Year's Eve event|
|Date(s)||December 31 – January 1|
|Begins||6:00 p.m. EST|
|Location(s)||Times Square, New York City|
|Organized by||Times Square Alliance|
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 commonly referred to as the ball drop, where the ball descends down a specially designed flagpole, beginning at 11:59:00 p.m. ET, and resting at midnight to signal the start of the new year. In recent years, the ball drop has been preceded by live entertainment, including performances by musicians.
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 been updated over the years to reflect improvements in lighting technology; the ball was initially constructed from wood and iron, and lit with 100 incandescent light bulbs. The current incarnation features a computerized LED lighting system and an outer surface consisting of triangular crystal panels. These panels contain inscriptions representing a yearly theme. Since 2009, the current ball has been displayed atop One Times Square year-round, while the original, smaller version of the current ball that was used in 2008 has been on display inside the Times Square visitor's center.
The event is organized by the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment, a company led by Jeff Strauss, and is among the most notable New Year's celebrations internationally: it is attended by at least 1 million spectators yearly, and is nationally televised as part of New Year's Eve specials broadcast by a number of networks and cable channels. The prevalence of the Times Square ball drop has inspired similar "drops" at other local New Year's Eve events across the country; while some use balls, some instead drop objects that represent local culture or history.
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 then divided into different viewing sections referred to as "pens", into which attendees are directed sequentially upon arrival. Security is strictly enforced by the New York City Police Department (NYPD), even more so since the 2001–02 edition in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Attendees are required to pass through security checkpoints before they are assigned a pen, and are prohibited from bringing backpacks or alcohol to the event.
Security was increased further for its 2017–18 edition due to recent incidents such as the truck attack in New York on October 31, and the 2017 Las Vegas shooting; these included additional patrols of Times Square hotels, rooftop patrol squads and counter-snipers, and the installation of reflective markers on buildings to help officers identify the location of elevated shooters. For 2018–19, the NYPD announced its intent to use a camera-equipped quadcopter to augment the over 1,200 fixed cameras monitoring Times Square, but it was left grounded due to the rainy weather.
Festivities formally begin in the early evening, with the 20 second "6 Hours to Go" countdown followed by the raising of the ball at 6:00 p.m. ET where a guest turns on a switch to light the ball along with the playing of Fanfare for the Common Man by The New York Philharmonic. Party favors are distributed to attendees, which have historically included large balloons, hats, and other items branded with the event's corporate sponsors. At that time, five hourly countdowns to the top of each hour are held until midnight, along with live music performances by popular musicians. Some of these performances are organized by, and aired on New Year's Eve television specials broadcasting from Times Square.
The climax of the festivities is the drop itself, which occurs at 11:59:00 p.m., and since 1996, it is ceremonially "activated" by a special guest (joined on-stage by the current mayor of New York City), selected yearly to recognize their community involvement or significance, by pressing a button on a smaller model of the ball. The button itself does not actually start the drop; that is done from a control room, synchronized using a government time signal. These guests have included various dignitaries and celebrities:
- 1996–97: Oseola McCarty
- 1997–98: A group of five winners from a school essay contest honoring New York City's centennial
- 1998–99: 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 Giuliani; this was 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 Reeve and Dana Reeve
- 2003–04: Cyndi Lauper, joined by Shoshana Johnson—the first black female Prisoner of war in the Military history of the United States.
- 2004–05: United States Secretary of State Colin Powell
- 2005–06: Wynton Marsalis
- 2006–07: A group of ten United States Armed Forces members
- 2007–08: Karolina Wierzchowska, an Iraq War veteran and New York City Police Academy valedictorian
- 2008–09: Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton
- 2009–10: Twelve students from New York City high schools on the "U.S. News & World Report" "America's Best High Schools Top 100 'Gold Medal' List"
- 2010–11: Former Staff sergeant Salvatore Giunta
- 2011–12: Lady Gaga
- 2012–13: The Rockettes
- 2013–14: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sonia Sotomayor.[note 1]
- 2014–15: Jencarlos Canela, joined by a group of refugees who emigrated to New York City, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee
- 2015–16: Humanitarian Hugh Evans
- 2016–17: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; this was Ban Ki-moon's final act as UN Secretary-General, as António Guterres took office on January 1, 2017.
- 2017–18: Tarana Burke—civil rights activist and founder of the Me Too movement.
- 2018–19: Joel Simon—Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and a group of eleven journalists: Karen Attiah, Rebecca Blumenstein, Alisyn Camerota, Vladimir Duthiers, Edward Felsenthal, Lester Holt, Matt Murray, Martha Raddatz, Maria Ressa, Jon Scott, Karen Toulon.
- 2019–20: New York City high school teachers Jared Fox and Aida Rosenbaum—recipients of the 11th annual Sloan Awards for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics, and four of their students.
- 2020–21: Chirlane McCray
- 2021–22: TBA
The conclusion of the drop is followed by fireworks shot from the roof of One Times Square, along with the playing of the first verse of "Auld Lang Syne" by Guy Lombardo, "Theme from New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra, "America the Beautiful" by Ray Charles, "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.
Since the 2005–06 edition of the event, the drop has been directly preceded by the playing of John Lennon's song "Imagine". Until 2009–2010, the original recording was used; since 2010–2011, the song has been performed by the headlining artist;
- 2010–11: Taio Cruz
- 2011–12: CeeLo Green[note 2]
- 2012–13: Train
- 2013–14: Melissa Etheridge
- 2014–15: O.A.R.
- 2015–16: Jessie J
- 2016–17: Rachel Platten
- 2017–18: Andy Grammer
- 2018–19: Bebe Rexha
- 2019–20: X Ambassadors
- 2020–21: Andra Day
- 2021–22: TBA
At least 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg) of confetti is dropped at midnight in Times Square, directed by Treb Heining (who has been well known for his involvement in designing balloon decorations for Disney Parks, and balloon and confetti drops at other major U.S. events and celebrations, such as the presidential nominating conventions) and thrown by a team of 100 volunteers (referred to internally as "confetti dispersal engineers") lining the rooftops of eight Times Square buildings. The individual pieces of confetti are meant to be larger than normal confetti in order to achieve an appropriate density for the environment. Some of the pieces are inscribed with messages of hope for the new year, which are submitted via a "Wishing Wall" put up in Times Square in December (where visitors can write them directly on individual pieces of confetti), and via online submissions.
After the conclusion of the festivities and the dispersal of attendees, cleanup is performed overnight to remove confetti and other debris from Times Square. When it is re-opened to the public the following morning, few traces of the previous night's celebration remain: following the 2013–14 drop, the New York City Department of Sanitation estimated that it had cleared over 50 tons of refuse from Times Square in eight hours, using 190 workers from their own crews and the Times Square Alliance.
Early celebrations, first ball (1907–1908)
The first New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square was held on December 31, 1904; 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 southern roof of the building to welcome 1905. 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. Palmer, suggested using a time ball, after seeing one used on the nearby Western Union Building.
Ochs hired sign designer Artkraft Strauss to construct a ball for the celebration; it was built from iron and wood, electrically 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 70 foot flagpole with rope by a team of six men. The ball would begin to drop at 10 seconds before midnight, once it hit the roof of the building, the ball was designed to complete an electric circuit to light a 5-foot-tall sign to light up on all four sides of the building, 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 (1920–1998)
The original ball was last used for the 1919-20 event in favor of a second 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 1942-43 and 1943-44 due to wartime lighting restrictions during World War II. Instead, a moment of silence was observed one minute before midnight in Times Square, followed by the sound of church bells ringing being played from sound trucks.
The second ball was last used for the 1954-55 event in favor of a third design; which was now 6 feet in diameter, constructed from aluminum, and weighed 150 pounds (68 kg). For the 1981-82 event, the ball was modified to make it resemble an apple with red bulbs and a green "stem", alluding to New York's nickname, "the Big Apple". For the 1987-88 event, 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 bulbs returned to the ball for the 1988-89 event, but were replaced by red, white, and blue bulbs for the 1990-91 event 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 became computerized through the use of an electric winch synced with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's time signal; the first drop with 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 introduced 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", which was in charge of organizing events across the city for year 2000 celebrations.
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 two 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 triangle-shaped crystal panels provided by Waterford, 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 "Hope"-themed designs changing yearly, those themes were “Star of Hope”, “Hope for Abundance”, “Hope for Healing”, “Hope for Courage”, “Hope for Unity”, “Hope for Wisdom”, “Hope for Fellowship”, and “Hope for Peace”.
The "Hope for Healing" theme was used in 2002 in remembrance of the September 11 terrorist attacks three months earlier: 195 of the ball's panels were engraved with the names of countries and emergency organizations that had taken casualties during the attacks, and the names of the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and the four flights that were involved in the attacks. In December 2011, the "Hope for Healing" panels were accepted into the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
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 9,576 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 the Times Square Visitors Center following the event.
For 2009, a larger version of the fifth ball was introduced—an icosahedral geodesic sphere lit by 32,256 LED lamps. Its diameter is twice as wide as the 2008 ball, at 12 feet (3.7 m), and contains 2,688 Waterford Crystal panels, with a weight of 11,875 pounds (5,386 kg). It was designed to be weatherproof, as the ball would now be displayed atop One Times Square nearly year-round following the celebrations.
Yearly themes for the ball's crystal panels continued; from 2008 to 2013, the ball contained crystal patterns that were part of a Waterford series known as "World of Celebration", which included "Let There Be Light", “Let There Be Joy”, “Let There Be Courage”, “Let There Be Love”, “Let There Be Friendship”, and "Let There Be Peace". For 2014, all the ball's panels were replaced, marking a new theme series known as "Greatest Gifts", beginning with "Gift of Imagination".
The numerical sign indicating the year (which remains atop the tower along with the ball itself) uses Philips LED lamps. The "14" digits for 2014 used Philips Hue multi-color LED lamps, allowing them to have computerized lighting cues.
2021 modifications due to COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, New Year's Eve 2021 was closed to the public. Attendance was limited to the invited families of first responders and other essential workers from the New York City area ("the Heroes of 2020"), performers, and members of the media. In accordance with New York state health orders, face masks were mandatory, and households were placed within 8 foot (2.4 m) "pens" with social distancing. Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins stated that "it feels most appropriate to shine a spotlight on the individuals who are tirelessly leading our nation through hard times with unshakable strength, determination and poise, as well as their families, who deal with their own set of sacrifices."
A series of "significantly new and enhanced virtual, visual and digital offerings" were also developed for the event; including the VNYE app—which featured a digital recreation of Times Square as a virtual world (where users could play minigames, view live streams of real-world festivities in New York City and elsewhere, and witness a virtual version of the ball drop), and augmented reality camera filters.
Weather at midnight
According to National Weather Service records, since 1907–08, the average temperature in nearby Central Park during the ball drop has been 34 °F (1 °C). The warmest ball drops occurred in 1965–66 and 1972–73 when the temperature was 58 °F (14 °C). The coldest ball drop occurred in 1917–18, when the temperature was 1 °F (−17 °C) and the wind chill was −18 °F (−28 °C). Affected by a continent-wide cold wave, the 2017–18 drop was the second-coldest on record, at 9 °F (−13 °C) and −4 °F (−20 °C) after wind chill. The third coldest ball drop occurred during the 1962–63 event, when the temperature was 11 °F (−12 °C) and the wind chill was −17 °F (−27 °C). Snow has fallen seven times, with the earliest being the 1926–27 event, and the most recent being the 2009–10 event, and rain/drizzle has fallen sixteen times, with the earliest being the 1918–19 event, and the most recent being the 2018–19 event. The snowiest ball drop occurred during the 1948–49 event, when four inches of snow fell, and the rainiest occurred during the 2018–19 event, when 1.02 inches of rain fell.
As a public event, the festivities and ball drop are often broadcast on television. A host pool feed is provided to broadcasters for use in coverage, which for 2016–17 consisted of 21 cameras. Since 2008–09, an official webcast of the ball drop and its associated festivities has been produced, streamed via Livestream.com.
The event is covered as part of New Year's Eve television specials on several major U.S. television networks, which usually intersperse on-location coverage from Times Square with entertainment segments, such as musical performances (some of which held live in Times Square as part of the event). By far the most notable of these is Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve; created, produced, and originally hosted by the entertainer Dick Clark until his death in 2012 (with Regis Philbin filling in for its 2004-05 broadcast), and currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest, the program first aired on NBC in 1972 before moving to ABC, where it has been broadcast ever since. New Year's Rockin' Eve has consistently been the most-watched New Year's Eve special in the U.S. annually, peaking at 25.6 million viewers for its 2017–18 edition. Following the death of Dick Clark in April 2012, a crystal engraved with his name was added to the 2013 ball in tribute.
Across the remaining networks, NBC broadcasts NBC's New Year's Eve (formerly New Year's Eve with Carson Daly), which features The Voice host Carson Daly, and Fox has occasionally broadcast its New Year's specials from Times Square. Spanish-language network Univision broadcasts ¡Feliz!, hosted by Raúl de Molina of El Gordo y La Flaca.
On cable, CNN carries coverage of the festivities, known as New Year's Eve Live, currently hosted by Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (the latter first replacing Kathy Griffin for 2018). Fox News carries All-American New Year, which was most recently hosted by Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Bill Hemmer from Times Square.
Beginning in the 1940s, NBC broadcast coverage 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 and Jay Leno's tenures on the program. NBC would later introduce a dedicated special, New Year's Eve with Carson Daly, hosted by former MTV personality Carson Daly.
From 1956 to 1976, CBS was well known for its television coverage of the festivities hosted by bandleader Guy Lombardo, most frequently from the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, featuring his band's signature rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight (which in contemporary times has traditionally been played at midnight in Times Square). 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. In 1979 the Royal Canadians were replaced by a new special, Happy New Year, America, which ran in various formats with different hosts (such as Paul Anka, Donny Osmond, Andy Williams, Paul Shaffer, and Montel Williams) until it was discontinued after 1996. CBS, except for coverage during a special episode of Late Show with David Letterman for 1999, and a special America's Millennium broadcast for 2000, has not broadcast any national New Year's programming since.
For 2000, in lieu of New Year's Rockin' Eve, ABC News covered the festivities as part of its day-long telecast, ABC 2000 Today. Hosted by then-chief correspondent Peter Jennings, the broadcast featured coverage of New Year's festivities from around the world as part of an international consortium. Dick Clark would join Jennings to co-anchor coverage from Times Square.
MTV had broadcast coverage originating from the network's Times Square studios at One Astor Plaza. For 2011, MTV also held its own ball drop in 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.
For 2019, prominent video game streamer Ninja hosted a 12-hour New Year's Eve broadcast on Twitch from Times Square, streaming matches of Fortnite Battle Royale with himself and special guests from a studio in the Paramount Building. Ninja made an on-stage appearance in Times Square during the festivities outside, which included a failed attempt to lead the crowd in a floss dance (a routine made popular by Fortnite).
- Michael Bloomberg, whose mayoral term ended at midnight, did not attend, and celebrated privately with his family instead. Unlike Bloomberg's inauguration in 2002, which was held shortly after midnight, Bill de Blasio was inaugurated in a ceremony the following morning at Gracie Mansion.
- Cee-Lo's performance was criticized by fans for his change of the lyric "And no religion too" to "And all religion's true".
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