Celebrations

12.28.12

Why Do They Drop a Ball on New Year's in New York?

Friedersdorf wades into the history, which begins with New York Times publisher Alfred Ochs wanting to throw a big party:

He then resolved to throw a New Year's Eve celebration that would be the talk of the town. "An all-day street festival culminated in a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower," according to an official history published by the Times Square District Management Association, "and at midnight the joyful sound of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from the over 200,000 attendees could be heard, it was said, from as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, thirty miles north."

An annual event was born -- but two years later, the city prohibited the fireworks display. "Ochs was undaunted," the official history continues. "He arranged to have a large, illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908." Thus the origin of today's celebration.

One Times Square has been home to a ball drop ever since, save in 1942 and 1943, when wartime light restrictions caused it to be canceled.