Oz is one of the first countries to see in the New Year. New Zealand, small regions of Russia, the Marshall Islands and Norfolk Island see it in before us. New York celebrates it 15 hours later than Sydney but that doesn’t stop the definitive image of the New Year being the falling of the Times Square Ball. I will leave it to poets to discourse on the symbolism of balls dropping and the years advancing.
Some notes on the Times Square Ball:
- For decades prior to 1900 there had been a tradition of people synchronising their pocket watches according to balls that descended from a pole in the town’s public space. These time balls, as they were known, were dropped at a predetermined time to enable navigators to verify their marine chronometers from ships offshore. This was important for ships to be able to determine positions at sea. In the UK the balls were dropped at 1.00pm, in the US at noon. Timekeeping was set according to when the ball began to descend, not when it stopped.
Time ball at Greenwich Observatory
Time ball at United States Naval Observatory, Washington.
- In 1904 the New York Times, a US newspaper that had been published daily since 1851, moved its headquarters to Longacre Square, New York. The owner of the paper, Adolph Ochs, convinced the city to rename the area Times Square. The building housing the Times became known as One Times Square. Previous New Year’s Eve celebrations had taken place at the Old Trinity Church in Manhattan’s financial district. To celebrate the move of the newspaper, Ochs threw a New Year’s Eve party which included a street festival and fireworks display, watched by a crowd of more than 200,000. The Times Square New Year celebrations became an annual feature.
Adolph Ochs and daughter Iphigene, c 1902
- In 1907 Ochs incorporated one further idea into the New Year celebration: an ornate time ball that was lowered at midnight on 31 December 1907 on the flag pole at the top of One Times Square. The ball was made of iron and wood, weighed 300 kilos/700lbs, measured 1.5m/5 feet in diameter and was lit by 100 light bulbs. The dropping of the time ball also became a part of the traditional New Year’s Eve celebration, remaining so and in that location even after The Times moved to a different location in 1914.
- By way of comparison, this year's ball was first unveiled for the 2008 drop. It is 3.65m/12 feet in diameter (double the size of balls past) and weighs 5,345 kilos/11,875 pounds. It has 32,256 LED lights and 2,668 crystals. The crowd in Times Square this year is estimated to be one million people.
One Times Square under construction, 1904
One Times Square completed, the second tallest building in New York when the Times moved into it in 1904. Note the flagpole at the top used for the dropping of the ball.
Time Square, 1908, looking south
The ball drop in 2011